Find a deep dive into Luton Council’s reflections from the action planning process and main aspects to consider when tackling the retrofitting agenda in your area.
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This case study is a part of the LGA's Regional Retrofit Action Planning programme
Demand and take-up
- Increasing the quantity of retrofit work being undertaken will support development of the skills and technology needed in Luton, with many benefits to the local economy beyond the main aim of reducing carbon emissions.
- Luton’s Council stock is already at a reasonable level of energy rating, however there are still more improvements that can be made to make the properties more energy efficient.
- Carbon Emissions? Net Zero? What are these – Resident education is necessary.
- How much energy do I save? I don’t see any difference in my bills! Some of the questions and uncertainty residents face. So, resident buy in is important otherwise they will not see the benefit of the retrofit investment.
- Finding reliable advice on what to do is also not straightforward. Even reputable organisations provide different stats to each other. Research which one is correct!
- It is very difficult to determine the relevance of generic information and there is a clear need for more specific advice and making it more relevant to the target audience.
- Every home presents a different set of issues. The possible solutions can be confusing, and the relative benefits and risks are generally not well understood. Reliable and accessible information is needed to avoid misunderstandings and misconception.
- Tenure adds another element of complexity. Many residents are vulnerable, and some have leasehold implications. There are different avenues to manage these and remember often than not different departments have different priorities to each other.
- The risks involved in retrofit are not clearly identified per measure. For instance, getting the ventilation correct at the time of insulating is key to ensure it doesn’t have negative effects (such as condensation).
- Ensure future works are not hindered due to External Wall Insulation (EWI), like windows and boiler replacements. So clear instructions in O&M manual are necessary.
- The plan must recognise that the council cannot afford to carry out a full retrofit of properties in a single phase, so a process is required which allows smaller steps to be taken which lead to ultimate performance and delivery. The Housing Revenue Account (HRA) has limited means to fund large scale retrofit and needs a medium term plan to accelerate retrofitting while trying to manage the budget availability.
- The council has attracted a substantial amount of funding from the government over the years which include Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP), Energy Company Obligation (ECO), European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). However, the funding is now means tested based on Energy rating of the stock, so keep this in mind.
- As Luton Council Homes are mostly on or above D, the funding opportunities reduce by a significant margin. The council then must revert to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) but there is not enough money to go round.
- The costs of retrofit are high, and the financial benefits can be unclear and uncertain.
- Energy cost savings are generally not a sufficient motivation. Increase in energy prices makes this less clear and harder to measure.
- Running costs of heat pumps (including maintenance) are perceived as a concern.
- Application for grant funding is complex and uncertain. Ongoing claims process can be as or even more convoluted.
- Procuring the services of professional designer, Retrofit Coordinator or a Project Manager can be seen as expensive or even hard to recruit.
- Ensure you rigorously ensure competent suppliers are procured and capable for the retrofitting to a good quality standard.
- Procurement process is complex and time consuming. Small to Medium-sized Enterprises find it difficult and are unwilling to commit to works.
- Meet the buyer events help unblock this and should encourage local suppliers. Hands on assistance to good local contractors would encourage bidders and encourage positive local economy.
Delivery and supply
- The client journey is challenging and appears to be expensive.
- Contractors lacking an overview or understanding of the end goal can cause problems.
- Planning is not often an issue as most will pass as permitted development as long as the finishing is of similar type/colour.
Principles and action plan
- Establish your principles that underpin the Action Plan and ensure you are moving the same direction as the council’s strategy – Luton 2040 Vision.
- Ensure the plan is built around a set of core principles that apply to the authority and underpin all of the proposed actions including reducing carbon and fuel poverty.
- It is important for the council departments to be aligned and therefore moving in the same direction, albeit at different speeds and with a varying focus, depending on the pressures in each department. Those differences will create different emphasis and potentially altered priorities from department to department and even within the same department. However, having a common set of over-arching goals will allow consistent policy to be set so issues such as finance, procurement and housing quality standards are clear and unambiguous to all stakeholders.
- For investment, the significant costs of the work needed to be forthcoming. Money recovered through funding should be reinvested in Housing retrofit rather than other areas.
- A clear set of aims is a vital first step.
Proposed Action Plan for Luton
- Luton needs to retrofit their entire non-traditional and sold walled stock
- Luton will encourage and train internal Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) staff to install EWI and Solar Photovoltaic (PV) (to add to the skills of installing windows and heating measures)
- Planning decisions and guidance should support low carbon retrofit
- Luton needs to move away from gas heating rapidly (explore alternative heating sources as heat pumps currently do not support a financially viable solution both for landlords and residents.
- Achieving Net Zero will require energy efficiency and carbon data/metrics in addition to EPC ratings. Luton is to embark on conducting EPC surveys for ALL its stock.
- Retrofit should seek to avoid a significant increase in energy costs
- Asset management / maintenance decisions should be consistent with the retrofit
- Luton will work collectively to develop skills, procurement models, and engage with residents.