Retrofit Project in Low Socio-Economic Status Areas, Leeds City Council

Leeds City Council developed the ‘Priority Neighbourhoods’ approach, to prioritise and then address the multitude of issues these areas had.

The challenge

Some areas of Leeds fall within top one per cent of deprivation nationally, as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Leeds City Council developed the ‘Priority Neighbourhoods’ approach, to prioritise and then address the multitude of issues these areas had. The priority neighbourhoods were defined as extremely deprived, coupled with poor housing, empty homes and social issues. However, following the formation of the coalition Government, the budgets allocated for regeneration reduced, meaning that despite the needs being unmet, the council needed to find new funding streams that could be used to improve these areas. The aim was to bring together multiple funding streams to improve energy efficiency and help to improve the lives of people in these communities.

The project focused on:

  • addressing fuel poverty
  • improving energy efficiency
  • overcoming funding barriers
  • improving building and social fabric
  • using a holistic approach to transform a neighbourhood.

The solution

Leeds City Council focused on one priority neighbourhood at a time, focusing all the available resources on transforming these communities, one by one. To fund the project, they combined various sources of funding including ECO funding and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority/ local economic partnership funding. This enabled them to renovate 180 properties, 40 of which were council homes. Once the funding was secured, they undertook a means assessment of each property to assess how much each would be required to pay. For private rented properties, the landlord was charged 25 per cent of the costs of renovation, for owner occupied, the residents paid 0-25 per cent depending on their income levels. In these priority neighbourhoods, owners are often expected to pay very little.

As with many projects, initially uptake was slow from private properties. So Leeds prioritised retrofitting the 40 council houses to show the improvement and to start conversations. This created a snowball effect whereby private landlords and homeowners began to want the works too. To reach private landlords, the council declared the neighbourhood as a selective licensing area, whereby landlords would need to apply for a licence from the council. This licence gave the council the jurisdiction to inspect properties and identify the homes with the greatest need for retrofit, including external wall insulation, room in roof insulation, new windows, new doors and central heating. Prior to installing insulation, the project also dealt with existing disrepairs (i.e. leaking roofs, lack of damp proof courses, repointing) to bring the whole home up to a high standard.

The council also utilised a disused building in the community as a site office, to enable the smooth delivery of materials but also to become a presence within the community. This also enabled them to develop a holistic approach where these residents could access other council services including money saving advice and fire safety checks.

The impact

By focusing on regeneration works, particularly external wall insulation, Leeds City Council were able to drastically improve both the costs of heating homes and the look of the neighbourhood. They retrofitted 180 properties, transforming the lives of the residents, increasing pride in their neighbourhood and stimulating more residents to undertake their own home improvements, in turn further regenerating the area. 

Leeds City Council also worked with Leeds Beckett University to monitor and evaluate the success of the retrofits. Their study found that prior to renovation the average temperature in some homes was 12 degrees. Following renovation, this rose to 18 degrees. Leeds received positive anecdotal feedback from residents, explaining how the works had transformed their lives. One mother of four described the difficulties she had keeping her home warm prior to the work and now, the children have an affordably warm home where they can do their homework.

Phase 1 was so well received by local residents that when the council announced phase 2 of the project, 90 per cent of targeted properties had signed up within a month.

The council updated EPCs for all homes, finding that on average each property saved 2.5 tonnes of Co2 per year, giving a total saving of 84 tonnes of carbon across the lifetime of each home, and a saving of c.25 per cent or £350 per year.

Lessons learned

  • Using social housing as a demonstrator creates a snowball effect: The council found that using social housing as demonstrators encouraged private landlords and owners to join the project. Increased pride in the area led to further home improvement works.
  • A holistic approach, incorporating social value works with energy efficiency is important: They found that reaching the community with an offer that benefited the community in a myriad of ways, rather than focusing on energy efficiency was key to uptake.
  • Having a long-term relationship with a contractor is invaluable: This is particularly valuable where the contractor also builds relationships and trust in the community, and has local knowledge.