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Stroud District Council: Planning to scale up retrofit?

At Stroud District Council we have more than 20 years’ experience working in partnership on retrofit. Our experience on issues such as affordable warmth is now seen as integral to a wider ‘retrofit challenge’.

This case study is a part of the LGA's Regional Retrofit Action Planning programme


Many local authorities are considering how they can tackle the built environment carbon challenge and all of us seem to find benefit in sharing thoughts around this.

At Stroud District Council we have more than 20 years’ experience working in partnership on retrofit. Our experience on issues such as affordable warmth is now seen as integral to a wider ‘retrofit challenge’. In more recent years we have widened our activities to social housing partnerships as well as consortia working to engage the potentially self-financing sections of the domestic sector.

In this ‘listicle’ we share our thoughts on the top 10 considerations to put behind your plans…

1. Identify your powers

In 2019 Stroud District Council made a public commitment to ‘do everything in its power’ to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. In developing our overarching strategy our first step was to think about what is ‘everything in our power’. When it comes to retrofit this overlaps our key priority areas of Energy; Built Environment and Community as can be seen in our masterplan. In doing this we were required to think about our role in the different strands of retrofit: own estates work; affordable warmth (Social Housing; Private Rental; Enforcement) and, support to private businesses and householders.

2. Know your assets (part A)

Putting community at the heart of everything we do is core to Stroud District Council’s values and is enacted through principles such as asset-based community development (ABCD). Looking at retrofit through an ABCD lens is not about ‘built’ assets so much as identifying strengths. Much of the retrofit conversation holds it focus on the difficulties, barriers and issues. This can be daunting and a barrier to progress.

We found solid foundations in our wider public sector partnerships, our early work to achieve buy-in from Clinical Commissioning and build collaborations with other districts and the third sector experts in energy advice. We engaged with our local community and found enthusiasts and experts wanting to inspire others and we pushed forward to take up the challenging role of strategic leadership for the county on retrofit when it arose through our Climate Leadership Group.

3. Be better together

Having identified the strengths around you it makes sense to build upon them to add value and strengthen those efforts.

Our affordable warmth partnership working offered experience, infrastructure, and willingness to join up efforts on a new target market for retrofit action, those that could be self-financing. In Gloucestershire, the sustainability focused counterparts to officers involved in housing renewal, enforcement and public health are embarking on a new direction to establish support systems for the private householder.

Scaled up retrofit relies upon a strong supply chain so new customers are not let down. We are joined up to our Local Economic Partnership who, as the lead on Economy and Skills, will help us pool our efforts and keep a focus on meeting the retrofit economy needs.

Our next steps plan sees some practical action research projects supporting communities committed to lowering their carbon footprint. Our ‘soft launched’ web-platform is available to use but it is soon to be so much more!

4. Be opportunity ready

The up-front financing of retrofit is a huge challenge and as a result one of the biggest opportunities lies in securing funds, mostly through national schemes, to support work to decarbonise. Whilst there is undoubtedly an issue with building a retrofit economy on the basis of a short-term awards strategy these schemes remain one of the only solutions currently available. Competition is high, funding periods short and so it is good to keep abreast of this changing landscape and have identified ways of working together to get bids in place quickly. In Gloucestershire we have a good track record of securing funds because we have identified our partners and external experts and remained in active and ongoing engagement on the issues.

5. Know your assets (part B)

Obviously having a strategy for your stock is a key component of a good plan and there are various modelling platforms and data sets that can help. Putting own estates work as a first step is a good place to start making your ‘ask’ to the public a more reasonable one, providing experience, case studies and stories to help others. It can also help to strengthen supply chains and be a route to providing skills, for example ensuring apprenticeships are part of the deal with any contractors.

At Stroud District Council we have been carbon neutral in our direct operations since 2015 but are continuing to reduce offsetting and working to decarbonise assets, such as our leisure centres which are under other management. This includes exploring the opportunities in Public Sector Decarbonisation Funds. We have an ongoing energy management programme which, as well as a rolling programme of efficiency measures, such as lighting improvement, has seen us take advantage of Feed in Tariff and, more recently RHI to install PV and Water Source technologies.

6. Reap the benefits

If you are in a relatively small team, then meeting the retrofit challenge is also a resources challenge. However, the retrofit challenge is a health challenge, a facilities management challenge, a financing and local economy challenge, a political challenge, and many other types of challenge!

It is also a solution, the potential growth of the retrofit economy if we rise to the challenge will mean more jobs, better homes, and more affordable, healthier lifestyles.  It is possible to draw in the resources from other council services, to convene, support, facilitate and advise so that bigger cross-council efforts can be made on the retrofit challenge.

7. Sell the benefits

Securing a ‘natural’ growth curve for the retrofit economy is the key to delivering ourselves from the boom/bust situation of the grants economy that means attractive incentives cause demand to out strip supply. Since the energy crisis and supply chain challenges of recent times, the balance between supply and demand has never been more tenuous and its impacts are not only felt at consumer level but also in skills sector as well.

There is a need to normalise the retrofit economy by focusing on securing private investment into homes and businesses so that growth in skills, supplies and demand are more in tune.

If we are to capture this market, we need to be aware of the need for a different tactic, one that breaks the high- end market and makes people come looking for retrofit solutions rather than being referred in for subsidised help because of need.

Our Gloucestershire self-financing focused partnership is taking care to understand the target market and tailor its offering to them. We are working with partners to research, test, and pilot ideas to inform our evolving services for the private homeowner. For this we have secured Capacity Grants from the South West NZ Hub as well as UK Shared Prosperity Funds and are working with national partners to find ways to build self-financing models.

8. Skills for the future

Considering how to support skills providers in developing their provision to support the skills needs in the retrofit economy is not to be forgotten. Special facilities are required for this practical training and, since the retrofit economy is not seeing its installer businesses rapidly, expand and grow causing high demand for training it can be a challenging business case for colleges to extend their provision.

Stroud District Council have worked in partnership with our local college and its UTC to support and champion their fund raising efforts and this is delivering a new skills centre for our Berkely based site to support our local skills needs.

9. Pull all the strings

The different areas of action on retrofit are all underpinned by the same strategic dependencies. Each action area develops localised progress in the different strategic dependencies. In Gloucestershire the efforts to put in place a strategic coordinating role are helping to share information and opportunity between the action strands and enable a greater strategic effort to meet satisfy these demands.

10. The power of possible

If you are involved in leading this work in anyway some days can feel like a losing battle, an overwhelmingly big challenge or even just too many multiple and varied irritations. Honestly, this is not a challenge a single authority area is likely to overcome in isolation. Some core issues remain, for example, in planning legislation and energy infrastructure. These can’t be addressed without national level collaboration. Seek support from national networks like LGA and join up for more powerful ‘asks’ to national government. Keep yourself and everyone in your authority area focused on the successes and solid performance areas to help build confidence it can be done.

Above all help to build wide confidence in the possibilities of retrofit, motivate, encourage, and enable action.