Neighbourhood approach to decarbonisation

Neighbourhood approach to decarbonisation cover
DG Cities was commissioned by the Local Government Association to capture insights and intelligence that can support councils to utilise neighbourhood strategies and solutions to deliver against their decarbonisation objectives

Executive summary

Overview of the study

DG Cities was commissioned by the Local Government Association (LGA) to undertake this study, with an evidence review and a series of qualitative interviews, to capture insights and intelligence that can support councils to utilise neighbourhood strategies and solutions to deliver against their decarbonisation objectives. The study brings together a broad literature review and seventeen local case studies. Key insights for neighbourhood decarbonisation have been determined through a thematic analysis and a set of recommendations have been made for communities, councils and the UK Government.

Councils across the UK play a central role in achieving net zero. This report provides an opportunity to share the great work that authorities have been doing to enable decarbonisation of their local area, and surface the unique approaches, contexts and outcomes for each. The selection of case studies seeks to provide inspiration by sharing successful strategies as well as the challenges of working at a neighbourhood level.

We would like to thank all those who contributed their time and valuable input into this research, with specific thanks to the local councils and their partners who undertook interviews and provided case studies.

Key insights

The study produced a set of key insights across broad themes and at various stages of the project cycle. These insights are summarised below and discussed in detail in the report with the case study examples.

Knowledge building and sharing – is a critical step in neighbourhood decarbonisation.

  • It is important to reduce the value-action gap and enable people to make changes.
  • Councils use a variety of techniques to build strong relationships with the public and their stakeholders to encourage uptake.

Community engagement – is a fundamental driver for success.

  • Councils recognised varying levels of engagement across communication channels and a range of platforms were used (neighbourhood events, street-level drop-in surgeries, best practice webinars, leafleting and newsletters).
  • Some community groups took the lead with local engagement, though building wider community consensus can be challenging.
  • Utilising trusted messengers and face to face conversations appeared to generate traction with the general public.

Design and delivery – are benefitted by working at the neighbourhood level.

  • This includes enhancing quality of place outcomes.
  • Getting energy efficiency works right the first time and ensuring a good basis for future work is a well-established principle. Working at this local level can support this and result in better value for money.
  • This local focus can also support community buy-in and co-ownership of the process, though technical expertise is often vital.
  • There are significant supply chain challenges, notably a lack of capacity, and a missed opportunity for improved local socio-economic outcomes and skills.

An inclusive transition - is recognised by councils to be highly important.

  • Though community participation was often skewed towards those not at greatest harm from an unjust transition.
  • Enabling an inclusive transition in the current landscape is challenging with the funding and appraisal context, with a bias towards certain urban areas and sectors.

Funding and costs – are a critical challenge, inconsistent funding makes it difficult to replicate and scale projects.

  • A lack of funding limits the ability of current projects to make significant contributions to net zero objectives and to build capability and supply chain resilience.
  • The funding landscape often causes street-level gaps for home upgrades. This can impact the sense of place and inclusion, whilst fuel poverty risks are increasing.
  • The uncertain and inconsistent funding environment impacts work profiling and supply chain pipelines, which may become less efficient.

Monitoring and evaluation – reflect a range of methods and varying levels of success.

  • External expertise is often a key driver of success.
  • Councils are also using qualitative measures to capture individual-level outcomes and these are meaningful indicators of success.
  • There are challenges with a lack of dedicated resources to monitor and evaluate projects, whilst there may be an opportunity to better articulate and align decarbonisation to the Social Value and Levelling Up agendas.

Discussion

Community-level projects may have, in places, been initially acting to fill gaps in capacity, though these can provide a way for individuals to feel involved, to have agency and self-efficacy, and to ultimately make, support and experience change in their localities.

The case studies demonstrate there is much to celebrate, inspire, learn from and build on for neighbourhood decarbonisation. Councils have also discovered that starting small and focusing on success can enable more aspirational and complex interventions to then be taken forward with and by communities. Places that build local sustainability networks and inclusive, successful community engagement have the potential to utilise these foundations to increase the effectiveness of future interventions that are top-down (from national, regional, local government), bottom up (from communities), or a combination.

The study highlights that several aspects of the climate change challenge and project cycle work well at the local level and/or in being community-driven. This includes the design phase, individuals’ engagement with the climate challenge, ensuring a just transition and monitoring success on the ground. The neighbourhood projects also enable opportunity for wider and social benefits to be realised.

However, expertise of, or alongside, local and community led decarbonisation as well as cooperation across projects are key to ensure mutual benefits and avoid missed opportunities. Expectations also need to be managed according to resources. A challenge that requires Central Government direction and input is the lack of supply chain capacity and resilience. Gaps in the supply chain continue to waste time and resource for local decarbonisation projects.

Funding is a huge challenge for this work at the local level. The ability to secure funding is impacted by not having dedicated people who can line-up and position for the funding streams, coordinate it on the ground and then do the monitoring and evaluation. Uncertainty in funding is also a key barrier. Inconsistent funding and timescales have caused local gaps and make it difficult to develop and manage a pipeline of work.

Overall, a one size fits all approach does not work for much of decarbonisation. It is important to recognise the different challenges facing communities, where strategy, intervention design and response to local authority driven action can vary considerably. Intersecting challenges for communities need to be well understood for designing successful engagement approaches - a neighbourhood focus to design and delivery is an effective enabler of this.

Recommendations

The study has informed a series of recommendations, for councils and community groups across the UK - where the sharing of best practice has much value – and for the strategic and policy levels to consider.

The headline recommendations are for councils and community groups to:

  • Appreciate the contextual, as there is no one size fits all approach to neighbourhood decarbonisation.
  • Encourage and support learning from best practices across the UK.
  • Recognise where there is a need for cooperation across neighbourhood projects to enhance benefit realisation.

The recommendations for Government are to:

  • Take forward a place-based funding approach, which simplifies and consolidates funds and provides long-term certainty.
  • Provide more finance to councils directly to develop their own capacity and encourage neighbourhood working where the benefits are well established.
  • Support councils and their communities to develop supply chains for decarbonisation work.
  • Support the development of community advisory hubs where there are current gaps.
  • Incorporate wider and social benefits into decision-making for decarbonisation.

Conclusions

This report offers evidence that councils are leading the way with decarbonisation. There is a wealth of successful approaches that local authorities take to connect communities, local businesses and key local actors to the climate challenge. The evidence from this study shows that while there is no one size fits all approach to decarbonisation, successful strategies include tailored community engagement, offering local people simple but tangible ways to be involved in the climate transition, and timely technical communications from trusted messengers.

However, there are challenges to working at this level which includes inconsistent funding, gaps in the supply chain and the difficulties of enabling an inclusive transition. Additionally, monitoring and evaluating impact is key for creating a solid evidence base of successful decarbonisation strategies, and while many councils outsource this, there is appetite to improve and grow these capabilities in-house or with community groups. With the right policy support and funding environment, neighbourhood could be a powerful step-change that enables local authorities and their communities to collaborate to realise net-zero transitions.

Report Outline

The report is structured as follows:

  • Section 1: Introduction and Approach – Setting out the study purpose and background, with the approach employed to answer the research questions.
  • Section 2: Key Insights – Presenting the key insights determined by the thematic analysis to distil and extract key themes and concepts.
  • Section 3: Discussion – Presenting a series of reflections on what works for local decarbonisation as well as the challenges, as evidenced by the literature and case studies.
  • Section 4: Recommendations – Setting out approaches that councils and communities may consider to meet their decarbonisation objectives, and a series of recommendations for the Government to enable effective decarbonisation at the local level.
  • Section 5: Conclusions – Summary of the key conclusions of this work.
  • Case studies: The 17 case studies are presented as an appendix to this report and are referenced throughout.

Introduction and approach

Councils as key partners in delivering net zero

Councils across the UK play a central role in achieving net zero. Through their strategies, programmes, networks, and long-term investments there is significant potential to tackle what is one of the most pressing challenges facing their communities. To do this they are developing skills and knowledge on environmental challenges, setting climate targets and defining and enhancing policies that support reductions in emissions. The approaches they are taking are innovative, though challenging and often inefficient, and are building new capacities for change at the neighbourhood and local level. Local authorities are taking the lead on climate change.

This study explores the realities of strategies and practices that are designed to decarbonise neighbourhoods and deliver local impact. Through this work we explore how different local authorities are investing and innovating through local programmes. We uncover opportunities and barriers, and explore the impact of programmes, and the evaluations that help quantify and improve neighbourhood interventions. This study focuses on councils as the organisations leading the decarbonisation work that is discussed, alongside community groups for example. However, the term local authorities is also used throughout the report to refer to these councils and other organisations which operate at a local level.

The economic, social and environmental benefits of neighbourhood programmes can be huge. And when their complimentary-benefits – capacity building, job creation, health and wellbeing improvements – are accounted for these impacts are even greater. The local approach not only provides the opportunity to deliver targeted change, but it also offers a multitude of additional benefits beyond the boundaries of localised programming. It is for this reason that there is great benefit in understanding, in detail, how to unlock the value of local decarbonisation programmes.

The content of this report was informed by an extensive literature review of published and grey literature, and a series of in-depth semi-structured interviews with local government officials, and other key stakeholders including innovation partners and representative bodies.

What is neighbourhood level decarbonisation?

Defining neighbourhood is challenging - as there is no consensus on a singular definition of neighbourhood in the literature. Instead, we find varying perspectives on what constitutes a neighbourhood project. For the purposes of our report, the case studies included are a range of approaches at different levels: some of the studies are just below an authority-down approach, while others are based on a single community building, street-level or neighbourhood-wide action. The terms neighbourhood, and local approach are used interchangeably throughout this report.

This study explores a diverse range of decarbonisation strategies and projects, across buildings, transport and energy. Some interventions are more common than others, so throughout we have looked to surface innovation as well as tried and tested approaches.

Background and context

Introduction to the climate change problem

In 2020, the UK Government set out their goal for the UK to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. More recently, the Government announced commitments in their Ten Point Plan, including, the installation of 600,000 heat pumps and the rollout of electric vehicle (EV) charge points. These commitments are encouraging. However, to ensure the green transition occurs, significant investment is needed. This includes financial investment, considerable improvement in infrastructure and a focused investment in labour market skills, so that jobs and careers are more sustainable. For example, this could mean shifting trades towards innovation in industry:  training people in heat pump installation and maintenance skills rather than a boiler installation. For the Government to achieve its aims, they will need a systemic approach which includes multiple partnerships that provide access to infrastructure and people.

Why councils have a role to play

Councils in the UK are uniquely positioned to aid the transition to net zero. This was recognised in the Glasgow Climate Pact made at COP26, which acknowledged the role of civil society, indigenous peoples, local communities, youth, children, local and regional governments, and other stakeholders, in contributing to progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement. Over 300 councils across the UK had declared by November 2021 and according to analysis by the climate emergency roughly 85 per cent of authorities had developed climate action plans, which have also been assessed and scored. All councils recognise the key role they must play in the transition to decarbonise and to support local communities to reduce their CO2 emissions. There is an opportunity for the UK Government to work in partnership with local authorities and utilise their access to communities, supply chains and infrastructure to deliver the decarbonisation of heat and transport in a fair and cost-effective way to society.

A recent LGA study exploring the delivery of net zero highlights the potential role for councils, which it states to hold significant potential to unlock social, economic and environmental value by delivering low carbon infrastructure. The highly networked and diverse model of council delivery means that through their powers, procurement processes, place-shaping expertise, convening capabilities and trusted relationships, councils are able to actively create value from decarbonisation.

However, while many councils have expressed interest and commitment in helping the UK transition to net zero, they cannot do it alone. The increasing centralisation of the Government means that authorities have limited funding, capacity and support to ensure decarbonisation projects are not only successful but are also evaluated such that they can be replicated and improved. According to Councillor David Renard, the LGA environment spokesperson, in an earlier article, transport and retrofitting housing are “probably the two big ones” where authorities do not have the necessary resources to achieve tangible change.

The evidence gap that this report will fill

DG Cities was commissioned by the LGA to undertake an evidence review and series of qualitative interviews to capture insights and intelligence that can support local authorities to utilise neighbourhood strategies and solutions to deliver against their decarbonisation objectives. Through this work we look to help make the case for neighbourhood approaches for decarbonising buildings, energy and transport by capturing successes, challenges, deployment models, evaluation processes and key-performance indicators. This has been informed by previous important case studies such as those developed by Friends of the Earth and Ashden’s ‘31 actions for councils’ toolkits.

This study brings together valuable insights and intelligence from a literature and evidence review and series of interviews that produced seventeen case studies. As part of this work, we undertook a thematic analysis to surface key themes, insights and recommendations.

However, the amount and quality of decarbonisation strategies and approaches varies greatly across councils. We therefore take this as an opportunity to share the great work that councils have been doing to enable decarbonisation of their local area, and surface the unique approaches, contexts, and outcomes for each. This selection of case studies seeks to provide inspiration by sharing successful strategies as well as the challenges and pitfalls of working at a neighbourhood level.

Research Questions

This work was developed to consider the following research questions (RQ):

RQ1: What neighbourhood level decarbonisation strategies and approaches are being deployed by local authorities, and are there common approaches and themes across them?

RQ2: What are the major barriers to neighbourhood decarbonisation, and what strategies and approaches have been found to be effective in reducing and/or eliminating them?

RQ3: What approaches to monitoring and evaluation (including theories of change, KPIs and qual and quant evaluation methods) have been deployed by local authorities and other stakeholders?

RQ4: What lessons were learned from these approaches that could benefit other programmes?

Methodology

Literature review

A literature review of academic and grey literature was undertaken to consider the above research questions. Literature was included in the review if it met the following criteria:

  • published on or after 2017
  • published in English
  • included key terms in the title or abstract, including decarbonisation, neighbourhood, local government, local authority.

In total we reviewed 31 papers, which included a mix of academic publications, local authority reports and thought pieces, and case studies and research reports from the consulting and third sector. Our approach was intentionally broad at this stage to capture a variety of examples. A thematic analysis was then undertaken to distil and extract key themes and concepts.

Case study interviews

We interviewed 19 local authority stakeholders working on a range of sustainability projects, including home energy efficiency, retrofits, community energy and transport, and behaviour change projects. The authorities were also at different stages of their net zero delivery.

The case studies gathered reflect a mix between those where action selection and design were community driven, typically starting from the smaller; where action was proposed by the council but was delivered at a neighbourhood level with community engagement well-embedded; or where there was co-development. The case studies also reflect a mix of projects across public sector building decarbonisation, home and street-level retrofit, community group initiatives, community area EVs, and nature-based solutions.

The following table sets out the interviews undertaken with case study projects.

Table 1: Neighbourhood decarbonisation interviews

Local authority

Case study project presented

Barnet London Borough Council

Decarbonisation of Public Sector Buildings

Devon County Council           

Sustainable Warmth - Community Energy Groups

Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council

Hard to Treat Housing Retrofit, Intake Suburb

Hampshire County Council

Greening Campaign – community initiatives

Lancaster City Council

Salt Ayre Leisure Centre Decarbonisation

Leeds City Council

Retrofit Project in Low Socio-Economic Areas

Milton Keynes City Council

Netherfield Domestic Energy Efficiency Upgrades

Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council

Community Orchards; Schools Incentive Scheme

Redditch Borough Council

Community Building Energy Efficiency

Royal Borough of Greenwich

Energy Heroes - Smart Energy Devices

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Notting Dale Future Neighbourhood

Sandwell Council

Net Zero Innovation Programme

South Cambridgeshire District Council

Zero Carbon Communities Programme

South Gloucestershire Council

Electric Vehicles - Revive Network

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Homes Retrofit Measures within a Holistic Approach

Worcestershire councils - Midlands Net Zero Hub

Effective carbon reduction approaches for large developments

 

Interviews were also undertaken with Suffolk County Council, Enfield London Borough Council, South Somerset District Council and the Midlands Net Zero Hub, where decarbonisation was discussed across local projects and with further general insights provided. These have also informed the thematic analysis.

In the following sections, we have identified common approaches, lessons learned and challenges faced by these authorities when implementing decarbonisation strategies.

Key insights

The thematic analysis has determined the following set of key insights. These can be assigned to the six broad themes which are relevant across the project cycle and across the different types of projects gathered for this study. These themes are then discussed further below and with reference to the case studies, where presented quotes are from the study interviewees.

Knowledge building and sharing

  • This is an important aspect of neighbourhood level decarbonisation programmes, to reduce the value-action gap and enable people to make changes.
  • Relationship building is key to a successful project. Councils use a variety of techniques to build strong relationships with the public and their stakeholders to encourage uptake.

Community engagement

  • Community engagement is a fundamental element of successful projects.
  • Councils recognised varying levels of engagement across communication channels. A range of platforms were used: neighbourhood events, street-level drop-in surgeries, best practice webinars, leafleting and newsletters.
  • Some community groups took the lead with local engagement, though building wider community consensus can be challenging.
  • Utilising trusted messengers and face to face conversations appeared to generate traction with the public.

Design and delivery

  • The neighbourhood level benefitted project design, enhancing quality of place outcomes. Getting energy efficiency works right the first time and ensuring work creates a good basis to build upon for future work is a well-established principle, and in the long run is more cost effective. Working at this local level can support this and result in better value for money. However, earlier work often requires more thought and time.
  • A neighbourhood focus can also support community buy-in and co-ownership of the process where engagement is successful, though technical expertise is often vital for addressing complexity.
  • There are significant supply chain challenges, notably a lack of capacity, and a missed opportunity for improved local socio-economic outcomes and skills.
  • These can be magnified at the local level. This includes materials and manufacturing which can lead to significant delays, and a lack of credible assessors and installers locally.

An inclusive transition

  • Councils recognise the importance and challenge in delivering an inclusive transition.
  • Participation was often skewed towards those not at greatest harm from an unjust transition e.g. the communities they engaged with or who led change, were generally middle class and already interested in climate change, and had power to effect change.
  • Enabling an inclusive transition in the current landscape is challenging with the funding and appraisal context, often cost-benefit analysis disproportionately favours certain urban areas and sectors.

Funding and costs

  • Inconsistent funding and timescales make it difficult to replicate and scale these projects, meaning authorities spend unnecessary time replanning projects with smaller budgets.
  • The lack of funding means current projects are often too small to make a significant contribution to net zero and are limited in their ability to build capability and supply chain resilience.
  • The funding landscape often causes street-level gaps for home upgrades. This can impact the sense of place and inclusion, where those in private homes are increasingly at risk of fuel poverty.
  • The uncertain and inconsistent funding environment impacts work profiling and supply chain pipelines, which may become less efficient.

Monitoring and evaluation

  • Councils are using a variety of monitoring and evaluation methods, with varying levels of success. External expertise is often a key driver of success.
  • Half of the authorities interviewed are also using qualitative measures to capture individual subjective wellbeing and satisfaction, and these are meaningful indicators of success.
  • There are challenges with a lack of dedicated resources to monitor and evaluate projects, whilst there may be an opportunity to better articulate and align decarbonisation to the Social Value and Levelling Up agendas.

Knowledge sharing and building

While most of the UK population are concerned about climate change, evidence suggests a ‘value-action’ gap, whereby many people do not know how to translate their concern into action. The Climate Change Committee’s 2021 progress report highlighted that a large proportion of the general population could not identify how their own actions contribute to climate change, for example: “While 80 per cent of people are concerned about climate change, only half are aware that their gas boiler produces emissions.”.  The lack of practical knowledge is something that councils have sought to address through their decarbonisation projects.

Local authorities utilised various strategies to address this knowledge deficit. Sandwell Council offered climate change training sessions to community groups. Once they had attended, participants were invited to apply for funding to implement climate change projects such as offering bike repair workshops or learning how to improve the efficiency of refrigeration units. Other authorities offered peer to peer learning opportunities: South Cambridgeshire District Council facilitated peer to peer learning with a range of communication forums including newsletters and webinar series where community groups shared best practice and lessons learned.

“There was a quarterly newsletter with local examples of good practice and tips and tricks.”

“One of the things we were very conscious of was the demographics of the areas we were looking at and were very wary of digital exclusion.”

However, authorities came up against various challenges when trying to distil new knowledge. Those who were running complex decarbonisation projects such as energy efficiency measures, found it challenging to provide residents with enough information. Both South Somerset District Council and Milton Keynes City Council were challenged by misinformation. For example, after Milton Keynes installed extractor fans in social housing, they found a social media message that claimed the fans cost residents “£10 in three days” in electricity. Unfortunately, the message went viral and resulted in residents uninstalling the extractor fans. Milton Keynes then needed to dispel this myth and present the comparison data, that the fan would cost them £3 a year, compared to a TV on standby that costs £12 a year. Similarly, other local authorities commented that failing to engage with residents early created misunderstanding and cost time and money later in the project, highlighting the importance of ensuring communities are equipped with knowledge from the beginning. Another lesson is that the content of messages matters - for example messages that convey cost differences have been shown to be more easily retained (or “sticky”). In the context of decarbonisation this can affect interest and uptake e.g. when informed for example that the running costs of heat pumps are higher than gas boilers, people assume it’s a significant difference in the order of thousands of pounds when they may be very minor.

It’s important that climate change, sustainability and decarbonisation messages are communicated in such a way that people understand how they may benefit (for example through cost savings). Clear terminology is key to this: particularly in areas of complex language, for example the planning system. The Midlands Net Zero Hub has played an important role supporting Worcestershire councils and in-turn communities to respond to developers’ technical responses and this often begins with terminology consensus.

“I also think the language of ‘retrofit’ may be unclear. We all use it but the public may not understand it.”

Community engagement

A further challenge for decarbonisation projects is that often individuals suffer from the “drop in the ocean” effect whereby individuals perceive a problem such as climate change as so vast, that their individual contribution is meaningless, therefore they do nothing. According to the Climate Change Committee (CCC), most interventions required to reach global emission reduction targets require at least some behaviour change, therefore public engagement and uptake of local authority projects is vital to achieve these goals. The benefit of working at a neighbourhood level is that community engagement and action can alleviate this feeling of helplessness as communities can see and experience others taking changes to reduce their environmental impact. Councils have used a variety of modes and means of communicating with the public to encourage uptake.

With regards to modes of communication, several councils found that sending letters or using online communications was not enough to engage local communities on neighbourhood decarbonisation projects. There have been a range of innovative approaches employed. Milton Keynes and South Gloucestershire Council noted the benefit of a physical presence in the community for residents to drop in and chat about their project. Similarly, Leeds City Council ran a retrofit project and repurposed a dis-used building into a site office, to provide a consistent contact point with the public and build a positive relationship with them. The Royal Borough of Greenwich Council co-designed an energy demand response service and accompanying smartphone app with residents to encourage lower peak time consumption.

“The other challenge is how do we reach these people? How do we actually talk to them? Because when you think about it… we’re quite far removed”

Another key bias is the messenger effect. Across sectors, the messenger effect has been found to be an important influence on consumer behaviour (Maclean et al. 2019). The messenger effect shows that in general, information from messengers who are perceived as experts or likeable have a greater influence on the public’s choices than other messengers. So, while some councils opted to use their own employees to conduct public engagement, others found that using trusted or expert messengers worked well too. Both Sandwell and Hampshire County councils used local faith and community leaders to act as ‘climate champions’. South Somerset District Council, Devon County Council and Hampshire brought in experts from academia or other fields to communicate with local communities. In Hampshire, the Greening Campaign facilitated engagement, beginning with communities of up to 300 households expressing interest and then voting on climate change actions to pursue and receive guidance for. Similarly, in the literature, a Copenhagen decarbonisation project highlighted the importance of advice being delivered by “trusted local actors” who can tailor communication to individual users (van Doren et al., 2020).

There have also been examples where community groups have led engagement and knowledge building, South Cambridgeshire and Sandwell for example provided climate change training to community leaders to utilise their trusted local role. Well-established community groups have also effectively shared their best practices and lessons with other and emerging groups in networking platforms.

“Using general trusted individuals in the community. If we get the message in- community first, then we get people accepting and interested in wider sustainability.”

Multiple councils highlighted the need for sustained engagement and the value of several touch points with residents in order to build rapport. Local authorities mentioned that failing to engage communities early on only generated delays and misunderstandings later in the project. Similarly, some claimed that building a long-term relationship with their community helped to drive demand for the next phase of decarbonisation projects. Furthermore, Leeds City Council recognised that their contractors had also built a strong relationship with the public which enabled higher public uptake and a sustained service.

“We have a really good contractor to persuade as many people in that area as we can to take the offer. And typically, it’s in the high 90s in terms of percentage take up. So, there’s streets now where the ones that haven’t been done stick out like a sore thumb.”

In balance to this role of ongoing communication, where projects are neighbourhood in nature but driven by local authorities, the value of effective timing, transparency and a ‘one hit’ approach has been raised. There is also a challenge to overly open consultation for projects. For example, asking people what they want often brings up many things and these may not be deliverable at a local level.

Local authority insights include the importance of managing expectations and sharing more technical or design-based information only when this has reached a suitable stage. This is important in building trust, where it has also been noted that residents may begin from a position of scepticism such as believing that having upgrade work available for their home for no or low cost is ‘too good to be true’. Further, across social home retrofit, contractors may have already visited homes several times before work begins.

“We've had to take a really engaging approach and there are massive benefits to that because it brings the community with you, brings the people on board, and it enables an element of control about what goes on in their homes, even though they are sort of tenants largely. It's a sense of control and ownership and say in what's going on, which is really important.”

Effective principles here include aligning work to planned maintenance and ensuring the work can be easily built on at a later stage if need be - it is very disruptive and costly to return to homes later to do more, especially for vulnerable residents.  The financial challenge (discussed further below) constrains how much home energy efficiency work can be done at one time and there have been missed opportunities, such as where roof work could have been complemented with solar panels.

“We also link in wider council services with a holistic and wellbeing-based approach in a ‘one hit’ approach so other services can be brought in to address other issues than the primary insulation work.”

Design and delivery

The neighbourhood level brings benefits for project design. The street-level retrofit case studies, such as in Leeds and Milton Keynes, have enabled work to also deliver kerbside and quality of place improvements through aesthetic lifts, whilst work is in-keeping with building and local character. Localised design benefits have also been found with street lighting upgrades and a range of community group projects for green space, reuse and repair models, and mobility solutions.

For EV, working at a neighbourhood level means that locations that would provide high community value but do not have a strong commercial case for the market, can be identified and taken forward. In the West of England, the ‘Revive Network’ enables such locations to be provided with EV charging networks by blending profitable locations with non-profitable locations where there is significant social value. In Greenwich, an online engagement platform was used that allowed residents to propose locations where EV charging should be installed, transforming the decision process.

Some projects necessarily require technical knowhow and input that may be beyond a community’s capability. In South Gloucestershire, a very well-established community energy working group has faced challenges in working towards a planning application and have recognised a potential need for specific technical input to drive the work forward.

“The community energy working group has also engaged companies such as Octopus Energy and Good Energy. This is to see if there might be an innovative way for the energy to be retailed.”

Technology combinations are often highly effective, such as initial fabric measures making heat pumps more feasible or solar energy subsidising other measures that don't normally show a return. For example, Lancaster City Council were able to provide a fully decarbonised solution for Salt Ayre Leisure Centre by connecting it to a solar farm development. This requires coordination and raises an important caveat to community level work. Without cooperation at the local authority level and inter-department level within councils, measures on one site may halt the ability to do another measure nearby. For example, measures on one site may then be constrained due to reduced grid capacity from nearby works or there may be missed opportunities for local energy generation when works are already completed. This needs to be factored into decarbonisation at the neighbourhood level.

“The thing I want to over-emphasise is the holistic approach here. It is not one thing such as improving energy efficiency but also taking carbon out through nature-based solutions. We need to embed it into our system”.

For EVs, it has been commented that it can be very challenging to get schemes off the ground, even where the community has a clear want for it. Detailed site assessment and delivery involves often hidden complexities or raises new concerns that community groups may find difficult to resource.

An overarching challenge, which can be magnified at the local level, is supply chain capacity and resilience. Many local authorities have raised problems, starting from significant shortages or delays in some materials and parts manufacturing. There has been an inability for the supply chain to respond to demand peaks in some areas, for example with doors and windows for improved insulation, heat pumps and solar panels. This has meant some authorities have necessarily ordered these in advance of decisions being made, where assets can be returned so the risks are lessened, to be able to meet tight funding timescales.

“There’s also a need to be careful with not creating peaks, having needs for the supply chain and skill sets at the same time – peaks of demand make it difficult to get X and then people will train in X - but then comes a point when you don’t need that anymore…”

Further, there may be a lack of reliable and reputable contractors, and this is magnified in some localities where work may necessarily need to be resourced by companies from outside the area. Devon County Council for example has found the PAS-2035 standards difficult to resource across the retrofit roles, given the high technical requirements but insufficient incentives for expertise to move into these roles - there is limited workforce available.

Some councils have benefitted from building relationships with contractors and using their services from funding bid preparation and application stages through to delivery. Barnet London Borough Council benefitted from having a contractor supplied through the GLA RE:Fit Accelerator Programme, providing a one contractor solution to design and delivery.

This supply chain challenge is understood as being related to the funding context and challenge in developing a certain pipeline of decarbonisation work. The need to follow a piecemeal or ad-hoc approach can reduce incentives for the (potential) supply chain. However, building the supply chain and its resilience, including green skills, expertise, and responsive manufacturing and distribution, will require cross-local collaboration and Government strategy and policy.

Inclusive transition

Many local authorities now offer grant schemes which provide funding to community groups to reduce their carbon emissions, engage and educate local people on climate change and support positive behaviour change. These schemes are valuable, though they often require key individuals to drive change and keep projects moving forward, rather than a diverse mass of local people and the building of consensus. These dedicated people are incredibly important, though they are also typically more likely middle-class, white, of higher income, with more free time and pre-existing interest in climate change.

Barriers to inclusion take several forms. They include geographic distribution and the nature of the built environment (e.g. rural vs. urban areas), digital-only accessibility (digital exclusion), intersectional experiences and identities, a lack of agency and/or trust from parts of the community (e.g. not having a good view of their local authority), or due to other concerns mattering to individuals before climate change, such as having decent homes and income. Indeed, some research suggests those in poverty adopt a scarcity mindset, whereby they discount future emergencies like climate change because of the immediacy of their current needs (de Brujn & Antonides, 2021).

Several councils highlighted the need for an inclusive transition. There are many benefits to the transition to net zero including better air quality and employment opportunities, therefore it is important that such benefits are shared equitably so that communities can achieve a ‘just’ transition. By not ensuring inclusion for decarbonisation, current inequalities can be magnified and the burden of climate change impacts will fall on those less able or unable to pay to adapt their homes and lifestyles. According to the UN expert Philip Alston, the UK’s poorest people’s right to life is at risk due to the increasing likelihood of droughts, pollution and flash floods. An inclusive net zero response is critical to ensure communities are resilient and that the response is resource efficient and sustainable into the long-term.

“We want this to be equitable and we want this to be able to connect with a whole diverse range of communities.”

Local authorities recognise the need for an inclusive transition but highlighted the challenges of achieving this in practice. Councils who were running community-led decarbonisation projects, like South Cambridgeshire, found it challenging to reach communities that do not already care about climate change. They mentioned that generally, the volunteers who sign up to their programmes are white, middle-class and already interested in climate change. To overcome this, they have searched for local faith groups, like Muslim women’s groups to show how things they care about will be impacted by climate change. As discussed above, the means of communication is important to reach different communities. Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council found that leafleting greatly improved their public uptake compared to using social media, as the digitally excluded were able to sign up.

“This leads on to the wider challenge of who is accessing support and the grant and how inclusive it all is. At present and previous, it does favour those with time and a pre-existing interest in climate change.”

Financial exclusion was a major challenge among retrofitting projects. Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council found that it was challenging to provide an inclusive social housing retrofit project using Local Authority Delivery (LAD) funding. To retrofit the homes, the council was required to spend about £10,000 per home for the grant requirements. As a result, they have been unable to offer wall insulation as widely as they had hoped. Financial exclusion was also a barrier among rural communities, for example in Redcar and Cleveland. In these authorities the challenge is instead the diminishing return on value as cost inflation hits retrofit budgets.

The Greening Campaign in Hampshire has worked to engage communities of all backgrounds. Their approach started small, with simple actions, and used early successes to empower individuals to act and share with others. Some councils are also looking at how co-benefits and benefits to marginalised groups for decarbonisation projects can be brought into local grant funding criteria, such as food poverty and accessibility requirements. Communication channels have also been critically assessed to consider how they can be adjusted for hard-to-reach groups. Further, councils have been partnering with organisations who can deliver climate change and carbon literacy training, both for wider service teams in the councils such as for developing strategies with decarbonisation embedded, and in turn for community leaders and residents.

“The challenge with all of this work is that it all gets complicated rather quickly. And it is really about that interface between technology, infrastructure and also people. People are really critical to this process and it is absolutely crucial to bring people along to get these things done.”

Funding and costs

A large majority of councils described costs and finances as a challenge of working at a neighbourhood, or indeed any, level of decarbonisation. Several mentioned the significant time and resources required to work out how to access and utilise multiple funding streams in combination to make projects workable. The ability to secure funding is impacted by not having dedicated people who can line-up and position for the funding streams, coordinate it on the ground and then do the monitoring and evaluation. Uncertainty in funding was also a key barrier.

“The challenge is going to be funding, and unless we get what we need from the central government we won’t be able to do what we want.”

Participants noted the complex and confusing funding landscape where multiple grant sources are available with varying timescales, requirements and criteria. The competitive nature of many of these streams can also bias those authorities that have managed to successfully deliver previous applications, which can then be built upon (typically with dedicated resources), or authorities that already have access to contractors and industry experts to lead their bid submissions. A noted success factor has also been the ability to do pre-submission work such as building surveys, energy and carbon saving estimates, and to outline solutions, in advance of funding announcements. Again, this may result in more funding being channelled to councils who have a resource advantage or successful partnerships in place, leaving some communities behind.

Councils highlighted multiple funding streams used for projects. For retrofit this included: Local Authority Delivery scheme funding (LAD), with several rounds; Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (SDS), with several rounds, the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF); Energy Company Obligation funding (ECO), with several rounds; Community Renewal Funding (CRF); HUGS (Home Upgrades Grant Scheme); Warm Homes Fund; the Rural Community Energy fund (RCE); the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) and its predecessor the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI); and other regional grant funding that has been developed or set aside such as RE:FIT in London or the Green Homes Grant in Greater Manchester. 

For other decarbonisation work, funding included wider regeneration investment where decarbonisation has been usefully brought into the criteria and assessment, such as Transforming Cities Fund, Towns Fund and Levelling Up funding; as well as community accessed funds such as the National Lottery Funding (the Community Climate Action Fund). Councils have also utilised the Community Infrastructure Levy to focus contributions from housing developers or have created ring-fenced funding pots for future decarbonisation, fed by revenues raised from current decarbonisation projects or related business rates.

With retrofit projects, a challenge with the grant funding is that the amount given is inconsistent across the years and that its criteria can change for subsequent rounds. For example, some councils found PSDS3 funding to be less generous than earlier rounds, making it more difficult to replicate successful models with reduced funding. Similarly, inconsistency and uncertainty about the continuation of funding, such as LAD4 and ECO4, makes it difficult for local authorities to forward plan entire neighbourhood approaches, as they need to know where the funding will come from in order to fill in aspects of the neighbourhood that could not be reached last time.

This creates challenges for relationships with the community who may perceive favouritism or preference for one area over another. Further to this, often the funding provided is tenure specific, meaning that when councils want to retrofit a street, they may need to miss out a few homes as they are privately owned (or belong to housing associations) rather than social housing. 

It has also been recognised that the pre-work phase of current funding, including SHDF, is time and budget consuming under PAS-2035. There could be significant gains to be made if these processes could be streamlined or accelerated, given best practices on how to do these pre-works effectively are emerging.

“This has been critical as the costs have near doubled for solid walls since 2020 - and the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) standard of 2035 requirements has increased costs e.g. from additional surveys, staff time and the specification changes.”

One local authority highlighted that in terms of costs of equipment and labour, particularly with cost inflation forecasts, it makes financial sense to retrofit all of the homes at once, rather than cherry picking due to funding restrictions. This issue has also been raised in the ADEPT 2021 climate recovery blueprint, where the authors called for the Government to provide more certainty around the funding for retrofitting and make this a top priority for the UK in the next year.

“Government is doing its best to put some funding into domestic retrofit but [it is] always split down by tenure.”

Given the landscape of ‘lumpy’ public sector funding profiles and uncertainty on future announcements and criteria changes, some authorities have decided to take a bolder approach to make decisions and act on the assumption that the funding will arrive. This is not an approach that all councils consider feasible, given the financial risks. It has relied on a local authority having the available financial resources to step-in if needed and from being able to refocus its wider capital investment toward decarbonisation. Other councils, and with examples provided in previous research, have taken forward innovative funding approaches such as local municipal bonds or through housing and development joint ventures.

“Similar to decent homes funding in the past, we’re looking at how to create a smooth investment plan rather than a lumpy one – where we provide capital investment to unlock funding and arguably have to bring forward, we have to push back other investments to make it work.”

By providing funding certainty and clarity, this will create more stability for the environmental supply chain. There is indeed a risk of missed opportunities where local areas and collaborations across local authorities are not able to confidently invest in and develop the local supply chain and green skills supply in response to a certain pipeline of specific works and demand.

Monitoring and evaluation

To ensure the transition to net zero, it is important that local authorities can generate and use good quality evidence to create effective support and services, and to learn from their approaches and the approaches of others. Many of the funding opportunities councils seek to use for decarbonisation projects require some evaluation data such as the reduction in carbon (CO2e) emissions that the project has achieved. This task often requires technical input; for example, local councils have benefitted from expertise from the Midlands Net Zero Hub to estimate and measure change and the Energy Savings Trust supported Hampshire. Lancaster developed a CO2 emissions dashboard that was used to demonstrate council emissions by source and identify where emissions were highest. However, there have also been examples where community groups have then been requested to provide these estimates themselves as projects progress, which can be challenging to do though emerging tools such as the Impact Community Carbon Calculator have been useful.

Overall, the authorities interviewed had multiple approaches to monitoring and evaluation as well as some challenges that we discuss below, in response to Research Question 3.

An overarching challenge is the lack of resources for undertaking robust monitoring and evaluation, with many projects not able to deliver detailed theory of change models or evaluation plans given capacity, capability or financial constraints. A factor for successful evaluation appears to be partnerships.

“There’s not really a theory of change framework. I do know that a one size fits all approach does not work as each neighbourhood area is very different and would need to be thought of, designed and consulted very differently.”

Several councils partnered with academic institutions to conduct evaluations of the projects. Leeds partnered with Leeds Beckett University and Doncaster commissioned the University of Sheffield to help with their monitoring and evaluation efforts. Higher Education institutions benefit projects by producing robust evaluation reports that provide high quality evidence for future projects. The challenge is that not all evaluation processes are developed early in project development. Some of the local authorities we studied did not seek the support of institutions until later, which resulted in a missed opportunity upfront to develop a theory of change. Others only had enough budget to retain the academic partner for one phase of the project. 

“A good example is we had Leeds Beckett University; they’ve got a really strong buildings team. They helped to monitor phase one.”

Data Quality is a challenge regardless of project type. For example, authorities running behaviour change projects such as Hampshire County Council, found that using energy bills as estimates of behaviour change were inaccurate because there are other drivers including the weather whilst baseline bills data was not always available and self-reports can be biased (over-estimating positive behaviours) or inaccurate.

Some councils like South Somerset highlighted the challenge of using EPC data as it is often incorrect or out of date meaning that the wrong data is captured. Moreover, it is often not readily available, meaning that councils have to spend resources and money to find all of the information in the first place. However, some councils have been able to get around these issues by using innovations. In Doncaster, a street-view van with thermal imaging equipment developed by the University of Sheffield has been used to assess where heat loss occurs for buildings. This can then be used to survey properties en-masse without looking for EPC ratings.

Many local authorities recognised, whether through a theory of change approach or by listening to local people, that monitoring qualitative and wellbeing data is meaningful and that this has only been magnified with the energy cost crisis. Neighbourhood retrofit projects in Doncaster and Milton Keynes for example have, or will, record residents’ wellbeing, satisfaction with their homes and street scenes, and feelings concerning energy bills. The energy cost crisis has also created a devastating impact on what energy savings now translate to financially - when several projects started the estimated reductions meant more money in people’s pockets, but now it may be cost stabilisation at best and reduced cost increases at worst. The empathetic and clear communication of these outcomes is crucial. Understandably, there is a risk that the current context will lead to stress, reduced motivations, or sense of agency for people, though upgrades to home efficiency and reduced energy consumption now have a greater impact.

“Indoor air quality is a huge thing and how people enjoy their home, their mental health outcomes - anything to reduce fuel stress in this horrendous time.”

“We ask people about their wellbeing, feelings on energy use and costs, and provide wider advice on how to support reductions in consumption.”

Other indicators that have been monitored and used to evaluate success include the numbers of people in the community who have engaged in a project and the number who have committed to action and remained so. These are often captured directly by community groups and can be important measures to then help design further actions and progress, or to identify where and why some in a community have not engaged or been included.

Some of the authorities interviewed described the challenge of decarbonisation projects as a “numbers game” and a challenge where there is a conflict between financial availability and meeting targets for carbon reduction.

“For the category of community engagement, climate change groups also need to report- how many are engaged and how many are going to make a meaningful change in their daily lives.”

For some councils this restricts the types of projects they tend to go for, where combinations of low-cost and low-scale projects may provide a higher return, and can be delivered in a piecemeal approach, rather than transformative projects that may be required to enable step-change for net zero. For example, councils mentioned that by focusing on smaller community projects, such as rewilding or community gardens, they were making a difference but not reaching the scale of carbon reductions they would want to, such as with wider community solar projects, transport electrification or infrastructure provision.

Going forward, having clear guidance and consistent reporting tools available to well-established community groups to undertake monitoring may reflect an efficient use of resources. Literature has also highlighted the benefits of communities undertaking their own monitoring and evaluation, as evidence suggests external evaluations are often ‘tiresome’ and not in the spirit of the community group (Hobson et al., 2016). However, in advance of this, robust baseline data will likely need to be collated - whether home efficiency, local travel behaviours or residents’ views - this is resource intensive though provides value not only for evaluation purposes but for informing intervention design. Milton Keynes’ homes retrofit contractor indeed reflected on the extensive pre-work that is required to get it right, covering a range of assessments. However, the benefit to this upfront work is that design is informed, monitoring is comprehensive and robust, and wider roll-out across the locality is supported. In meeting net zero, localities and programmes will benefit from consistent and robust evaluation across projects. This reflects a significant current resource gap that is above the neighbourhood level, though facilitating input from communities into this process will likely help meet this challenge.

“We are doing an action plan for the strategy now and my fear is that years down the line we won’t have the M&E (monitoring and evaluation) to see if what we did is/ was right.”

Discussion

It is recognised that community level decarbonisation is one part of the required response to the climate emergency that will support the UK to reach its net zero targets. Household consumption and expenditure patterns contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, estimated to account for up to 72 per cent on a global basis (Wilson et al., 2013), though a lack of access to alternatives and production-side impacts are entwined with this. The scale of the challenge requires strategic national-level direction, cross-regional and cross-local boundary collaboration, and private sector commitment and leadership. Systemic change is required: building a resilient supply chain and transformation of green skills in the labour market; delivery of strategic infrastructure for the UK’s energy and transport systems; business-led change in product development and retail; and delivery of step-changes in home insulation and waste management, are just some of the changes required.

The current post COVID-19 geo-political and energy context presents a highly challenging resource and financial landscape. Some councils have commented or implied that supporting and facilitating community action has been the inevitable focus given more strategic (and costlier) climate action has not been possible. Community-level projects may have, in places, been initially acting to fill gaps in capacity, though these can provide a way for individuals to feel involved, to have agency and self-efficacy, and to ultimately make, support and experience change in their localities.

Regardless of the initial rationale, case studies such as those collated for this study, demonstrate there is much to celebrate, inspire, learn from and build on for neighbourhood decarbonisation. Local authorities have also discovered that starting small and focusing on success can enable more aspirational and complex interventions to then be taken forward with and by communities. Places that build local sustainability networks and inclusive, successful community engagement have the potential to utilise these foundations going forward to increase the effectiveness of future interventions that are top-down (from national, regional, local government), bottom up (from communities), or a combination.

This study highlights that several aspects of the climate change challenge and project cycle work well at the neighbourhood level and/or in being community-driven. This includes the design phase (as discussed in the thematic analysis), as well as the following.

Engagement with the climate challenge

There are significant communication and engagement benefits from projects being neighbourhood in nature, being able to meaningfully connect with communities and to make action more manageable and tangible. Projects have utilised a range of methods including forums, networks and local events to engage the public.

As places grow and change, well-formed sustainability networks can maintain a sense of community to help enable continued buy-in, action and uptake which will be critical for the meeting of net zero objectives. More complex interventions or those that require greater buy-in from stakeholders, such as heat pumps, could learn from and build on this by using trusted and pre-existing community leaders and networks to build public knowledge and share information.

Starting small with entry-level actions to build upon 

A common approach has been to start with smaller and achievable actions for community members and groups, to help educate and build awareness, agency and ideas for climate actions. Empowering people is critical and this is supported by feedback on the impact (no matter how small) of the changes people have made and to share successes from others in the community, thus activating social norms. It is important that people can be eased into the decarbonisation challenge where necessary. UCL’s ‘action first’ approach, employed in Sandwell, is based on the idea that when people start on projects related to sustainability, they become more conscious and interested. Our study found examples where councils found success in providing just a framework and generic ideas to schools, to encourage excellent student engagement, learning and ideas generation. Our literature review illustrated that it can often be hard to know where to start but that local authorities have inspired local businesses to take positive steps by starting with specific actions, such as with part-electrification of their fleets or the use of micro-mobility solutions.

We also found examples of community groups designing and delivering more complex projects, demonstrating motivation for transformative change and with examples in local energy generation. For these, there may remain areas that need expert technical input to facilitate success.

Overall, a one size fits approach does not work for much of decarbonisation

It is important to recognise the different challenges facing communities, where strategy, intervention design and response to local authority driven action can vary considerably. Intersecting challenges for communities need to be well understood for designing successful engagement approaches - a neighbourhood focus to design and delivery is an effective enabler of this.

Inclusion is a high priority which neighbourhood projects have the potential to target

An inclusive transition is a clear priority to councils. However, the reality of the current funding landscape and process of project appraisal means inclusion is sometimes left-behind. Cost-benefit analysis can often disproportionately favour urban areas, with current higher population density and economic performance, and projects in particular sectors and sub-sectors, such as larger transport infrastructure and digital projects. The important benefits of the project distributional impacts, of social and community value, and of outcomes for individual quality of life improvements should also be included and valued to inform where investment is delivered.

A range of civil society and third sector organisations are collaborating to support an equitable transition to net zero, for example the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, IPPR North and the Zero Carbon Campaign. Through this work a set of emerging principles to a just transition have been defined, including: ensuring people have access to mitigation and adaptation regardless of income and that the costs and benefits are distributed evenly; enabling people to have a say and control in the decisions that are made for their local areas; and to offer more financial support to people with low-incomes, including education and demonstrations of technology to support information building, uptake and stop exclusion. These principles offer a useful guide to local authorities looking to ensure inclusivity in their strategies and approaches.

Exclusion is also apparent at the labour market skills level. As the New Economics Foundation 2021 briefing on skills acknowledges, skill capabilities are a ‘binding constraint’ to decarbonisation and disparities in access to training are a key driver of regional inequality. As the UK steps up its response to net zero and the pipeline of work grows, inequalities would be amplified by differentials in the ability to refocus local labour markets and supply chains towards these opportunities. This could be expected to be experienced within localities as well as reflecting the current nature of intra- and inter-regional disparities.

Expertise of neighbourhood and community led decarbonisation is key

We found that local authorities benefit from expert support and advice to help encourage more community take-up. Specific support is useful for building public knowledge and community consensus, and councils referenced numerous organisations doing excellent work in partnership.

Expertise is required for parts of delivery as community-level projects grow, become more complex and have to adapt to wider planning and environmental issues. Technical input was necessary, but in limited supply, for coordinating between projects and understanding cross-project opportunities and challenges to ensure the highest level of positive outcomes for communities.

Input beyond the local area or community is also often required to improve the scope, delivery and outcomes from developers by enabling councils to undertake robust feasibility tests of development plans, with engagement and clear definitions. This can refine approaches and objectives, meaning outcomes can ultimately be improved. Expertise has been sought from regional net zero hubs and academic partners to provide local areas with the capability to assess carbon saving scenarios, capacity requirements and modelling of alternative renewable sources.

This expertise can help align council aims for net zero with wider aims such as attracting investment, delivering homes and employment land, and ensuring discussions and collaboration happen at the right stage to influence private sector and developer decisions and ensure infrastructure and any constraints are addressed.

Gaps in the supply chain continue to waste time and resource

Current gaps and lacking capacity in the supply chain matter, this adds time and cost to project delivery and magnifies the stated challenge of the often-tight timescales for grant funded project delivery. Further, there is a missed socio-economic opportunity for improvements in local skills, business development and job quality.

There is also an important interplay between the strategic and regional level and the local level to enable successful decarbonisation approaches. One such example is in building the supply chain for capacity and resilience, required across decarbonisation - including retrofit, deployment of decarbonised energy (solar panels, heat pumps) and mobility electrification. Authorities are working above the local level with regional partners for skills and contractor development. The Midlands Net Zero Hub is facilitating applications to the recently launched Home Decarbonisation Skills Training Competition (HDSTC).

Regional level Net Zero Hubs, Climate Change Commissions and such collaborations, of which there are many, are working on some of these challenges as well as providing expertise into local areas on a need-by-need basis. The GLA programme ‘Retrofit Accelerator - Workplaces (RE:FIT)’  has supported public sector organisations in procuring retrofit services and works, guaranteeing energy and cost savings as a performance contracting framework. There is also excellent work being undertaken with organisations such as the Retrofit Academy, the Low Carbon Academy, and Greater Manchester’s Retrofit Skills Hub for skills building with local authorities and businesses.

Expectations need to be managed according to resources

A clear challenge through the project lifecycle at the local level is lack of resources for councils and local community groups. This covers dedicated personnel, time and financial resources and the availability of technical capabilities, and it varies across place and authority tiers. This impacts the preparation for and securing of funding; the scale of projects that can be scoped, designed and delivered; the type of engagement and partnering used; and the ability to monitor, evaluate and learn from projects - and indeed to utilise this to secure further funding or partnerships. The Government should do more to provide the financial and technical resources to progress decarbonisation with benefits that are available from the local level.

Neighbourhood projects enable opportunity for social benefits to be realised

The decarbonisation challenge has been inextricably linked to the ‘levelling-up’ challenge, recognising its role in raising living standards with a focus on areas with a long legacy of deprivation, such as the New Economic Foundation’s Five Steps to a Green New Deal. Previous climate change case studies such as Friends of the Earth and Ashden’s research have recognised that local action works, and that authorities can demonstrate wider benefits from this work as well as progress against their climate targets. Some of the case studies gathered for this study explicitly measured wider social benefits, including wellbeing, quality of place, community cohesion and engagement levels. However, not all projects and authorities have been doing so, especially where access to funding and its criteria measurement is resource intensive already.

There is an opportunity for grant funding streams to incentivise the design and delivery of projects to better realise such wider and complimentary benefits across projects, and to consider their distributional impacts. For example, the funding criteria can include these indicators and analysis, and look to align the work to the needs of local marginalised groups and those on low incomes. Learning from and alignment with the UK’s Social Value Act and its updated measures (2021)[1], may be one lever here. This can help projects to target and deliver a share of community value from procurement, such as building local expertise and requiring local supply chain partnering (including lower tiers), and to ensure inclusive engagement and design for decarbonisation projects.


[1] New measures were launched to promote new jobs and skills, encourage economic growth and prosperity, tackle climate change and level up the UK.

Recommendations

The study has informed a series of recommendations, for councils and community groups across the UK - where the sharing of best practice has much value – and for the strategic and policy levels to consider.

It is recommended for councils and community groups to:

  • Appreciate the contextual, as there is no one size fits all approach to neighbourhood decarbonisation. Local knowledge and lived experiences provide a wealth of information to guide appropriate decarbonisation measures, these need to be considered and built into the research, planning, design and delivery phases.
  • Encourage and support learning from best practices across the UK. There are a host of successful approaches that can be learnt from and community group approaches that can be replicated, as presented in this and other studies. Sharing best practice and lessons between and within localities has been effective and there are effective platforms to build upon, whilst dedicated organisational remits here would be highly valuable.
  • Recognise there is a need for cooperation across neighbourhood projects. There are multiple benefits to working at this local level for various elements of decarbonisation. However, there are risks that joined-up approaches and mutual benefits are not realised, reflecting missed opportunities and reducing the value and scale of outcomes - as various examples have been demonstrated. This could ideally be facilitated by council teams though resource constraints mean strategic and financial input are likely to be needed.

At the strategic level, it is recommended that:

  • The UK Government needs to take forward a place-based funding approach, which simplifies and consolidates funds and provides long-term certainty with local flexibility to target net zero initiatives at the local level. Councils also require more clarity on funding criteria and timescales from Government to help build effective pipelines of local intervention and to better plan neighbourhood level projects.
  • The Government should provide more finance to councils directly to develop their own capacity and encourage neighbourhood working where the benefits are well established. Councils are financially constrained to meet the net zero challenge, the required mitigation and adaptation work cannot be delivered without more funding and more control given to those who best understand local communities and places.
  • The Government and regional-level authorities should support councils and their communities to develop supply chains for decarbonisation work. There is a range of approaches here such as building up Skills Hubs, developing supplier training and certification programmes with local match-making, and utilising expert energy advocacy roles into local areas. This requires investment, clear direction and leadership from Government, which can then be delivered by suitable authority tiers whether regional, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP) or local authority collaborations. Higher and further education institutions have a key role to play here, and there are excellent examples and organisations underway in some local areas.
  • The Government should support the development of community advisory hubs where there are current gaps. There is a need to support local authorities, public services, communities, households and businesses with decarbonisation knowledge, up-skilling, technical knowhow and expert advisory. Higher and further education institutions also have a key role to play here. This would suitably be combined with local supply chain developments (recommended above) and could result in effective approaches such as a ‘one-stop shop’ services. This might for example enable local people to drop in and learn and join local community groups, and potential suppliers to understand the local market and forthcoming plans and access training.
  • The Government and public sector funding should incorporate wider and social benefits into decision-making for decarbonisation. Social Value, wider benefits and distributional impact assessments should be included as requirements or success factors within funding criteria. This can build on existing HM Treasury appraisal and evaluation frameworks and Social Value models. This is a key part of ensuring a just transition and connecting local people to the climate challenge.

Conclusions

This report offers evidence that councils are leading the way with decarbonisation. There is a wealth of successful approaches that local authorities take to connect communities, local businesses and key local actors to the climate challenge. The evidence from this study shows that while there is no one size fits all approach to decarbonisation, successful strategies include tailored community engagement, offering local people simple but tangible ways to be involved in the climate transition, and timely technical communications from trusted messengers.

However, there are challenges to working at this level which includes inconsistent funding, gaps in the supply chain and the difficulties of enabling an inclusive transition. Additionally, monitoring and evaluating impact is key for creating a solid evidence base of successful decarbonisation strategies, and while many councils outsource this, there is appetite to improve and grow these capabilities in-house or with community groups. With the right policy support and funding environment, neighbourhood could be a powerful step-change that enables local authorities and their communities to collaborate to realise net-zero transitions.

Appendix: Case studies

Lancaster West Neighbourhood Team - Notting Dale Future Neighbourhood, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The challenge

Following the Grenfell Tragedy in June 2017, local and central government committed to delivering a model 21st Century estate for the residents of Lancaster West. Lancaster West Neighbourhood Team was established following the tragedy to provide a suite of management functions including tenancy management, community development and repairs and to deliver a multi-million-pound refurbishment of the 800 homes on the estate. A key aim in modernising the estate is to be net-zero by 2030.

In 2021 Notting Dale ward - where Lancaster West sits - was granted funding as part of the Mayor of London’s Future Neighbourhoods Fund to develop the area into an eco-neighbourhood. A key aspect of this programme is decarbonisation.

The solution

The Lancaster West Neighbourhood Team aim to contribute to this goal by:

  • Retrofitting all of the stock on the estate
  • Decarbonising energy and creating a green energy network
  • Upskilling staff and employing local people in green industries
  • Improving the circular economy aspects of the estate.
  • Aiming for all operations to be carbon-neutral by 2030

The Lancaster West decarbonisation work will take five to seven years to complete due to the complexity of the site, the scale of the work, and the logistics of delivering inner city decarbonisation.

The team received funding from the DLUHC, BEIS, and the council, to deliver its plans to decarbonise the estate and from the Greater London Authority (GLA) to deliver a Future Neighbourhood strategy for Notting Dale ward, where Lancaster West estate is located.

Although the Lancaster West Neighbourhood Team is employed by the council, it has its own director and budget, meaning it has the semi-autonomy to deliver improvement quickly and effectively.

The impact

The key performance indicators will consider resident engagement levels, building performance, heat demand, and heat loss. For instance, the Lancaster West team is measuring the fabric performance of its buildings using Enerphit as the agreed standard and has piloted this approach in developing the council’s first low-energy home at Verity Close These measurements will set targets for the decarbonisation of the estate and managing the quality of the works delivered by contractors. The following outcomes were shared:

Decarbonisation:

The team will decarbonise the estate by retrofitting the homes on the estate, and by establishing a renewable energy heat network supplier. The retrofit of homes will help to reduce demand by around 25 per cent.

In addition to housing, the team will seek to decarbonise other assets on the estate, with the aim of connecting them to a single heat network that is being developed for the estate.

The heat network will use air source heat pumps, powered by roof-mounted solar PVs and green electricity. Heat interface units are provided within each home and smart stats will help control the energy usage within a home.

A local energy company Notting Dale Heat, co-designed with residents, was established to provide energy to Lancaster West.

The team is also in the process of developing a dashboard to track the estate’s carbon emissions, which will be measured annually.

Resident engagement:

Every aspect of the project is built in co-design with the residents. Levels of engagement with the refurbishment of the estate have been generally high. Some engagement activity has seen over 80 per cent of households engaged and generally, there have been high levels of interest over the period of engagement.

Challenges:

  • Internal – bringing all stakeholders from the council, government and residents on board.
  • Financial – will be a common issue when working in decarbonisation. The team overcame this challenge through grant funding and internal resources, however, they’re aware that the level of funding they received will be challenging to obtain elsewhere
  • Skills and competencies – There is a lack of necessary skills and competencies for delivering decarbonisation. Large-scale interventions are needed to build these skills.

Lessons learned

The Lancaster West Neighbourhood Team indicates it’s important to not enforce solutions on residents but to instead work with the residents to come up with a solution. Residents are engaged through lots of workshops. A series of workshops were held in 2019 to understand resident priorities for their blocks. Further workshops have been held since then to progress through the design and procurement. 

Working at a local level has allowed the Lancaster West Neighbourhood Team to drive the council’s decarbonisation agenda. This project demonstrates that a localised approach yields more results and engagement than a centralised approach (where staff do not have much involvement on the ground), as delivered by local authorities.

The Lancaster West Neighbourhood Team noted that decarbonisation at a borough-wide level may not be effective, due to the needs and challenges of the varied demographics and stock. Having a neighbourhood-focused approach to delivering services over a small geographic area leads to better outcomes and better stakeholder engagement. To deliver effective decarbonisation agendas, local authorities need to adopt a localised neighbourhood approach and need to coalesce all their resources around this approach.

Greening Campaign, Hampshire County Council

The challenge

Hampshire County Council declared a climate emergency and committed to become carbon neutral by 2050. Approximately 2 per cent of Hampshire’s emissions come from the council's own buildings and assets, and 98 per cent wider borough activities that the council does not have direct control over. The council is focusing on behaviour change approaches to drive emission reductions for these harder to control activities (e.g. of private residents).

The solution

Hampshire County Council partnered with the Greening Campaign, to deliver grassroots projects at a community scale across the borough. The Greening Campaign initiative consists of three phases. In Phase 1, communities of up to 300 households will register with the Greening Campaign by expressing their interest in making sustainable changes within their community. A set of actions will be voted on by the community to address the climate change challenges they are facing. The community will then be provided with guidance on increasing participation amongst its residents.

The actions can be very simple (e.g. switching off lights when not in use), as the aim is to engage communities of all backgrounds, and to empower them to take action, no matter how small. The impacts of their work are also shared, so communities become inspired to do more. The communities submit the actions they have achieved to the Greening Campaign, who then work with the Energy Savings Trust to calculate the high level carbon savings for the community. This is done by applying carbon reduction assumptions based on the actions taking place and the assumption that communities are completing these actions (as they claim to do so). The communities then shared their success, approach and knowledge with other communities participating in the Greening Campaign.

Communities will then be invited to participate in phase 2 and to make further commitments relating to:

  • Retrofitting (e.g. insulation measuring): Sustainable Places is working with the Greening Campaign to deliver retrofitting services. 
  • Creating wild spaces: through the help of the Wildlife Trusts. 
  • Climate change and health: The Greening Campaign is working with an NHS health professional to identify the impacts of climate change on health, to help communities be more resilient to these impacts.

In Phase 2, the Greening Campaign is driving the engagement with the communities, and the technical expertise is provided by the above mentioned partners. Finally, communities move to phase 3, to further progress the activities defined in phase 2. For instance, as part of the retrofit projects, communities will be supported to ensure that their homes can adapt to climate change impacts (e.g. increased heat and flooding).

The impact

To measure the impacts of the project, Hampshire conducts formal reporting which looks at various KPIs including the number of communities engaged and carbon savings. The council also undertakes informal reporting by gathering feedback via biweekly meetings with communities and communicating the success to the wider borough.

The main outcome that the council is aiming to achieve is an increase in engagement and behaviour change, as this will greatly contribute to emissions reductions. Community engagement levels in the Greening Campaign have reached 52 per cent (reflecting the percentage of households that take part in a community initiative). Depending on the actions that the community takes, carbon savings can range between 33 to 105 tonnes of CO2 per year. The carbon savings are communicated in simple manner to the communities, to demonstrate that their actions have great impacts, especially when done collectively.

Hambledon Village in Hampshire, is one of the communities that participated in the Greening Campaign. By following the guidance provided by the Greening Campaign, what started as an interest from one individual, grew to a community with commitments to deliver actions around retrofitting, waste reduction, supporting wildlife and climate health.

The main challenge that the council has experienced in delivering this project is resourcing and funding. Working with the Greening Campaign has helped the council mitigate some of its resourcing issues, but to work at a larger scale, the Greening Campaign will require additional funding, which they are seeking through grants. The council is also trying to find better ways to engage hard to reach communities. Through working with the Greening Campaign the council is hoping to better engage with residents from all demographics.

Lessons learned

  • Messages should convey clear benefits: It’s important that messaging around climate change, sustainability and decarbonisation is communicated in such a way that people understand the direct benefits to them (for example cost savings).
  • Encourage small changes over time: The council recognises the importance of addressing behaviour change when implementing technical measures to decarbonise energy (e.g. air source Heat pumps.) To reduce carbon emissions, it is important that communities are slowly eased into decarbonisation activities (e.g. switching off lights) to increase their engagement and change their behaviours. They can then take part in bigger commitments.
  • Recognise the different challenges facing communities: Each community has different challenges, and the actions to support decarbonisation will differ from one community to another. It’s important to understand that although actions within communities may seem small, their impact is large when measured collectively with the actions of other communities.

Zero Carbon Communities Programme, South Cambridgeshire District Council

The challenge

The climate crisis requires adaptation, public engagement and innovation at a local community level to reach net zero targets. Many people want to act on climate change, but don’t know what this would look like in their community, and are unsure of where to start or are daunted by the scope of what they could do. 

In South Cambridgeshire, there was a need to support communities with their attempts to tackle the climate emergency and a need for funding which supported a wide range of community projects. South Cambridgeshire District Council set up the Zero Carbon Communities (ZCC) Grant scheme to harness local action and enthusiasm, build local community networks and to enable this through a consistent and sustainable funding approach.

Since its inception, the ZCC Grant scheme has developed into a wider programme of support that is responsive to the emerging needs of the community groups, such as sharing best practices and extending networking activities.

The solution

The ZCC Programme is a wide programme of support with multiple elements and at its heart is a grant scheme. The scheme consists of an annual funding round of up to £100,000 split between different community projects (£1,000 to £15,000 each). It has been in place for three years and the 4th round of funding has just been announced. A total of 61 projects have been funded through the programme so far.

The programme’s wider set of support, beyond the funding, includes ways for communities to link up and troubleshoot, to ask for help and to receive and provide support. Their quarterly newsletter provides local examples of good practice as well as tips and tricks; a series of webinars that connects groups with each-other to share lessons learnt and discuss a variety of topics; and events programmes that have included topics such as “Cycling for Sustainability” and “Greening your Business”. More recently, a Facebook page has been set up to support wider access, alongside an intention to restart face to face community group meetings following the COVID-19 pandemic. South Cambridgeshire District Council is committed to remain flexible to the best engagement approaches and to adapt these accordingly.

Funding is provided from the council’s ‘Renewable Reserve’, built up from retained business rates from renewable energy developments (such as solar farms).  The council earmarks this reserve for climate and environment projects - including the ZCC Grant scheme.

The impact

The ZCC projects have a variety of impacts which are monitored and evaluated in different ways, some being qualitative, and others being anecdotal. South Cambridgeshire District Council has calculated equivalent carbon emission savings for all projects across the previous three years. This year they asked applicants to estimate their predicted carbon savings.

The ZCC Programme reports on how many people have been engaged through the projects and how many have committed to making a meaningful change in their daily lives. Ongoing conversations across platforms have also been effective in helping communities build knowledge and awareness for what they need and how South Cambridgeshire District Council, or other community groups, can support them.

The council also monitors webinar participation rates and feedback from the community groups. It is recognised that the direct support has been effective and that areas have been funded that would not have been otherwise.

Some project-level examples are provided below with their specific impacts:

Cambridge Sustainable Food is a Cambridgeshire-based food charity that was granted £15,000 in the first round of the ZCC grant scheme. Through the project, they set up two community fridges which saved 5.97 tonnes of food from going to landfill. They had 80 attendees at online events, and their online cookery demos and environmental tales read aloud received 1,100 views subsequently online. They hosted six stalls in local villages designed to educate their 250 visitors on what a climate diet is and how to involve it in your daily life. They also developed Climate Diet Pledges, which helped participants to commit to making a change in their own lives. The group also developed an E-Recipe book to have something tangible that individuals could refer back to.

The group said, “The campaign has enabled us to develop a strong network in South Cambs and we hope this will enable further effective partnership working in future”.  The group themselves received feedback from participants of the community fridges project who said, “Over the last few weeks I've stopped peeling carrots and I've started freezing odds and ends of vegetables to make stock.”

Net Zero Now is a project from Cambridge Carbon Footprint which was awarded £15,000 from the ZCC Grant. The Net Zero Now project designed and delivered free training to 12 community leaders to educate them on climate change, allowing them to become local ambassadors on the topic. These individuals are now working on initiatives including village hall sustainability, toy and book swaps, bike repair schemes and eco-festivals. The resources developed through the project have been transformed into a free online training course and will help to deliver future in-person and online courses.

Lessons learned

  • Inclusion matters and is a challenge - a key lesson and ongoing challenge has been the inclusivity of the programme. It has, to date, been more accessible to those with more time, higher incomes and pre-existing interest in climate change, whilst there have been lower levels of engagement from young people.
  • South Cambridgeshire District Council wants the project to benefit a diverse range of people. It is looking at how it can benefit marginalised groups and how co-benefits of projects such as tackling food poverty can be brought into the funding criteria. The council is starting to monitor inclusion, for example characteristics data will be captured through the programme’s post-webinar surveys. Other communication channels are also being looked at for how they can be adjusted for hard-to-reach groups.
  • The pre-feasibility process and open communication matters - the success of the ZCC projects was supported by ensuring clear and early understanding of project feasibility and requirements, and for any issues to be well known upfront. A recommendation is for pre-feasibility workshops to communicate the needs and criteria of the grant and for openness in discussing and receiving trouble-shooting from community-based projects.
  • There are significant communication and engagement benefits from projects being hyper-local in nature. Projects can utilise hyper-local events to really connect with people and to make climate change action seem much more manageable and tangible. These projects can build people’s awareness of what they can do themselves. Hyper-local projects also provide an opportunity to be flexible for when people are fatigued with online events and communication. This may be particularly relevant in a rural area with local and village events and parish groups.
  • As the South Cambridgeshire localities grow, with the presence of growing and larger towns, utilising these sustainability networks and sense of community is deemed to be critical for enabling climate change action.

Domestic Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Netherfield, Milton Keynes City Council

The challenge

The Social Housing Decarbonisation Funding (SHDF) provided an opportunity for Milton Keynes City Council to develop a methodology for energy efficiency upgrades that would be scalable whilst utilising a street-level approach with Mears Group plc.

 A key challenge for domestic retrofit work is delivering on a ‘least regrets’ basis and to avoid unintended consequences for homes, as set out in PAS-2035. It is recognised that even before the work has started residents would have been visited several times, so getting it right first time and being consistent and transparent with the process and information matters. It is disruptive to return in later years and need to overhaul or alter earlier retrofit work to do more upgrades. This project was based on providing benefits now and setting a workable basis for any future work. Perhaps unexpectedly, Milton Keynes does not have coherent property archetypes but rather has a mosaic of building techniques and heritage that needs to be well considered.

Delivering the scale of work that is required across the Milton Keynes housing stock required a bold approach to the investment and works pipeline. The council wanted to avoid limiting their ability to do work further down the line in other areas. This involved pre-empting further funding, being able and prepared to meet financial gaps and smooth the investment plan and having schemes ‘oven-ready’ in advance of funding announcements. This was based on not seeing grant funding as the answer but having the ability and willingness to re-think the housing capital investment approach and embed the council’s decarbonisation strategy.

The solution

The solution to date has consisted of thermal upgrades being designed for 304 properties in Netherfield as a phase 1. This covers 3 streets in turn, with 8 different property archetypes that each have a different design. Work will start on-site in September 2022, and is due to finish August 2023, following a meticulous design process. This follows the PAS-2035 specification, with a number of independent organisations and roles recruited as retrofit assessors, coordinators, designers, advisors and evaluators.

The project has employed an estate-based methodology, without pre-ordained decisions on what the measures should be. The project started from an energy conservation basis and then built-up wider benefits across people, property, place, and the planet. The retrofit process is summarised as follows:

  • individual retrofit assessment – all properties have their own survey and BIM modelling
  • pre-works air tightness testing
  • design stage
  • planning and consultation
  • construction phase
  • handover to residents
  • post works air tightness testing
  • monitoring
  • evaluation of the works.

The work for all properties includes warm roof upgrades, external wall insulation, high performance windows and doors, replacement of window fins, and ventilation upgrades; whilst some will also receive high performance garage doors and internal wall insulation. These measures reduce heat loss and solar gain – to keep homes cooler in higher temperatures. A principle was to complete the energy efficiency works alongside planned maintenance work for the social housing, meaning issues including poor internal air quality, dampness and mould could be addressed in parallel.

The design has considered the appeal and aesthetic upgrade of homes including facades and cladding. This is about returning the kerb-side appeal and pride of place in the community, giving properties a full aesthetic lift alongside the carbon and fuel cost savings as a holistic approach. The design also incorporated Netherfield’s legacy style and colour palette.

A challenge has been realising a whole street upgrade, where the funding allows for the full works on council-owned stock but this can leave gaps where there are Housing Association, private landlord or owner-occupied homes in the street. This can be addressed with further investment by Milton Keynes but emphasises the need to future proof, consider the wider street aesthetic and ensure work is done in a way that is suitable and easy for future maintenance and building upgrades.

The impact

The project’s upgrade designs are anticipated to deliver energy savings, which will be crucial for residents as the energy cost crisis continues. Based upon previous gas prices the project was estimated to provide a £304 saving per annum for a terraced household. However, the reality of the current energy price cap is that what was presented in March 2022 as savings in pockets is now about stabilisation and lessening bill increases. The empathetic communication of what the project outcomes are for residents is really important.

Devices and modelling will be used to measure the upgraded homes performance, including air tightness testing, BIM modelling and thermal heat mapping. The monitoring framework for the project will also capture residents’ perceptions and satisfaction, and mental health outcomes.

Netherfield is seen as planting the seeds for wave 2, and in starting the delivery of Milton Keynes’s ambition for every home to be modelled and upgraded as necessary.

This work also has an impact on, and increasing demands of, the supply chain. It is recognised that meeting retrofit targets, for the regions and nation as a whole, will create a significant peak in materials and supplier demand that is quite beyond current capacity, whilst it may then drop off significantly causing further problems. The supply chain needs greater consideration, management and foresight, from education through the assessment pipeline and evaluation.

Lessons learned

  • Effective pre-work is extensive and there is a need for some acceleration - the retrofit pre-works have been significant to get it right and follow PAS-2035, including pre-application engagement with planning, detailed assessments and full residential engagement. Issues such as uncertainty on what is allowed under the latest Permitted Development Rights (PDR) only adds delays.
  • It is recommended that some elements, and best practices, of the SHDF process should now be streamlined and accelerated as enablers, given the scale of need.
  • Clear and transparent communication with the community matters - this project experienced how an incorrect assumption, in this case on the cost of new extractor fans that were being installed in houses, can spread very quickly over social media. This impacted residents’ views and trust in the intervention, where the project team engaged effectively with the community, and provided an online calculator, to dispel the myth.
  • Effective engagement included working with key figures in the community; sharing information with resident groups and parish councils; and the provision of local estate surgeries that have built trust and now effectively provide advice to residents. Intervention Information such as designs should be shared at the right time, managing expectations until there is clarity on the technical solutions.
  • Current grant funding is only part of the answer for retrofit - Milton Keynes is fortunate to have alignment between funding streams and its wider strategy for the housing stock and investment. It is important to bring decarbonisation goals into the wider capital spend pipeline, which may also focus on safety and decent homes standards, whilst a holistic and ‘one hit’ approach for social home upgrades is more effective.

Hard to Treat Housing Retrofit, Intake Suburb, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council

The challenge

Housing retrofit is a highly important and effective programme of work and Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) has been undertaking insulation work over the last two decades in response to government funding. However, there remain hard to treat properties in the council’s stock, as non-traditional building forms including mixed or cavity walls and less typical architectural design.

Doncaster MBC identified a total of 1,800 homes that needed to be treated and upgraded to at least an EPC C rating to help reach Doncaster’s net zero aspirations for 85 per cent reduction from the 2005 baseline by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2040. This project was also framed by the need to tackle a high-level of fuel poverty, being around 17 per cent of homes and with more entering fuel poverty; and to support residents’ wellbeing and satisfaction with their homes.

The solution

The retrofit work schemes have been delivered on a hyper-local and collection of streets basis. A whole street approach has been employed by considering the social homes (right to buy and council owned) and neighbouring privately owned homes together as part of a street scene. The council has attempted to avoid gaps by smoothing and combining Local Authority Decarbonisation (LAD) and wave 1 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) as best as it can.

Homes were retrofitted with combinations of solid wall insulation and wall updates, new roofing, loft insulation, window glazing and door upgrades, and heating controls. The design has been hyper-local in considering the specific building archetypes and the local nature and style to ensure in-keeping designs such as mock brick effects.

The work is driven by an effective stakeholder engagement approach, including Neighbourhood liaison officers. This is important as external work can take in excess of 5 weeks. The approach includes:

  • individual and community meetings, with all receiving information on the designs, scaffolding work, street access needs, timescales, waste approach etc
  • full community consultation where benefits are presented by the council and contractor, including residents’ comfort, health and wellbeing, and thermal performance and savings
  • talking to people about energy saving more ‘in the round’, asking about energy use and costs and providing advice to support reductions in consumption
  • a holistic and wellbeing-based approach with a ‘one hit’ approach, so that other council service teams can be brought in to address issues beyond the primary insulation work
  • the use and presentation of a ‘no refusal basis’ with the works being on an inclusive basis – where people have initially refused or been unsure, the council have been sympathetic and understand residents’ concerns
  • ongoing liaison with communities whilst the council and contractors are on site.

Funding streams were combined for this work, including the council’s capital and housing revenue, the Local Authority Decarbonisation (LAD) funding and wave 1 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF). This funding has been critical, where costs have risen including a near doubling of costs for solid walls since 2020 and with the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) standard of 2035 requirements (e.g. from additional surveys, staff time and specification changes).

There have also been challenges with the nature of the funding landscape, its uncertainty and with the need to combine funding streams. For example, it has not been clear if further LAD (LAD4) funding would materialise and enable gaps to be in-filled on a street basis, especially given the presence of different tenures and ‘able to pay’ markets within neighbourhoods. The combination of LAD and SHDF was important to address both private and social housing together, but this needs to be carefully planned for creating an effective pipeline of work and can cause street level gaps. There has also been uncertainty with the ending of the Green Homes Grant ending, which had provided a complementing approach between those who can and cannot afford upgrades.

Doncaster are now working on a ‘Sustainability Pack’ to be able to go to residents with clear advice, links to the available grants and energy saving tips. It is recognised that having a trusted source of information in this space is very important.

The impact

Doncaster MBC are capturing fuel bills data before and after, undertaking heating performance checks and looking at electricity consumption given their provision of wider energy saving advice. The outcomes have been affected by the energy cost crisis such as anticipated cost savings, in the order of £400-500 per annum, instead becoming cost avoidance as energy bills increase. Residents’ ratings of their wellbeing is also captured, alongside their views and feelings on fuel bills and comfort in their home.

So far, the council are starting to realise benefits at the start of the streets that they are working on and wider street scene impacts are realised later. The standard of work has been high through the use of contracted commitments. More private residents are coming forward to see how much the work may cost and how they can access it.

Doncaster MBC have also been working with the University of Sheffield to provide insights into whole-life energy characteristics of buildings and thermal profiling. This uses a purpose-built mobile infrastructure imaging vehicle to obtain data at neighbourhood-level scale with a drive-by data collection – the Multispectral Advanced Research Vehicle (MARVel) which has been developed by the university’s Urban Flows Observatory. The current work program aims to develop this scalable methodology for characterising building envelopes and estimate thermal energy efficiency of the domestic building stock to identify a tailored and bespoke suite of retrofit measures needed for each building and examine the value of these interventions, both in terms of occupiers’ health and well-being, and also the savings in health service expenditure.

By collecting and analysing data on homes’ energy performance, occupants’ use of their homes, and their wider experiences such as their health, the work will add to the literature exploring the relationship between housing and health, and quantify the potential benefits of the sorts of retrofit programmes that this technology will enable.

Lessons learned

  • Significant challenges require collaboration at the higher level, for example to address the skills need with the sub-region to realise the economic opportunity, and to successfully obtain funding and work with financial institutions.
  • There are supply chain issues to be resolved - there have been a lack of committed suppliers and this impacts costs and timelines, materials are also in high demand but there has been a lack of production from manufacturers.
  • A whole house and one hit approach should be aspired - to address all energy and sustainability issues once would be ideal as tenants can be vulnerable and the work is disruptive. For example, where there is roof work solar panels could also be fitted, and it would be best not to have to revisit in a few years with heat pumps.

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

The problem / 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.

Energy Heroes: Smart Energy Devices and Communities, Royal Borough of Greenwich

The challenge

The Royal Borough of Greenwich was commissioned as part of the European Sharing Cities programme to demonstrate the potential of innovation and technology in the areas of citizen engagement, mobility, energy, housing and city data platforms to benefit the environment, the city and its citizens. Greenwich was London’s demonstrator area for the programme, therefore wanted to identify how best to showcase innovations in the borough.

There is a growing UK market for the provision of services that respond to the UK national electricity networks' increasing mix of energy sources and demands, without the involvement of consumers. Greenwich used the opportunity to identify how consumers could be involved with an intervention to reduce energy consumption at peak demand times on the energy network.

The solution

Greenwich co-designed an approach with residents to design a ‘first of its kind’ residential demand response service which used smart device technology installed in homes to monitor consumption, and a smartphone app to encourage residents to reduce consumption at peak times and gain rewards for doing so.

Separately, an online engagement platform was used that allowed residents to propose locations on a map where EV charging should be installed, transforming the decision process around where to locate charge points. Technology was used to integrate EV charge points into existing street lighting infrastructure, transforming how the infrastructure is delivered on city streets.

The impact

In terms of the energy demand, the initiative found high levels of engagement and response from residents to peak energy alerts (95 per cent) and an average 78 per cent energy reduction in energy consumption during peak energy events. Consumers are now directly benefiting from these savings.

The EV charging point data was integrated with data in the Mayor of London’s city data platform, allowing for the cross-city sharing of data to inform future infrastructure planning. This innovation has been transformative, saving 2500 kg of CO2 emissions in the first year and providing 4,000 kWh of energy for electric charging.

Lessons learned

Greenwich has been able to draw in good practices and lessons learned for further projects that combine technological innovation, such as smart devices, travel and home decarbonisation, with behaviour change. The role of community groups and co-development is well recognised to support knowledge and awareness building. This can support the sustainability of interventions and their beneficial impacts for communities.

Net Zero Innovation Programme, Sandwell Council

The challenge

Over COVID-19, Sandwell Council set up a programme, Covid Champions, consisting of community groups and faith leaders in the local community. The council trained these groups to help boost vaccinations and awareness around COVID-19. Due to the programme’s success, Sandwell council sought to apply this approach to drive behaviour change around climate change and decarbonisation, helping the council meet its borough wide commitment to be net-zero carbon by 2041, by driving emission reductions from assets it has no control over (e.g. private residential dwellings and businesses).

The solution

Sandwell Council is delivering a project called the Net Zero Innovation Programme, alongside UCL University, University of Birmingham and Sandwell Council of Voluntary Organisations. The project is funded by the LGA, UCL and the council’s underspend budget from COVID-19. In total, the council had accumulated £50k for grant funding. The project follows UCL’s action first approach, which is based on the idea that when people start on things related to sustainability, they become more aware and interested.

At first, community and faith centres attend high level training sessions on climate change. These sessions inform trusted members in the community about various aspects of climate change, so they can increase this awareness and knowledge amongst their community. The goal is to engage people, empowering them to take action around climate change.

After the training session, community and faith centres can apply for £2,500 of funding to implement climate change projects at a local level.

The impact

Some projects proposed to date include community gardens in church areas; community building energy efficiency and solutions to improve efficiency in refrigeration units for NGO kitchens; community group ‘play champions’ to develop children’s understanding of climate change; and clothing and bike repair workshops with training. The council is measuring this project’s success by tracking the network of individuals that come forward and are engaged on climate change. The project has led to high levels of engagement on climate change, especially from faith groups. This has been a positive solution to engaging the hard to reach members of the community. Depending on the project that is being implemented at a local level, the council would seek information around direct emission reduction savings.

Although the projects selected are important, the council is focused on what comes after the engagement. The council aims to set up a climate board of community of the faith leaders and community centres, to ensure that communities are represented and are included in all climate change work. The aim would be to understand and address the barriers that people and businesses have in implementing climate change measures.

Community Orchards, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council

The challenge

Nature-based solutions are an important, though somewhat less prioritised, part of the decarbonisation challenge. Nature-based solutions can also offer opportunities for communities to engage with the climate emergency, with activities that may seem more manageable, tangible and as well as offering wider benefits such as biodiversity gain, wellbeing and quality of place.

The solution

Community development officers working for Redcar & Cleveland Council developed community orchards in the East Cleveland community. As part of this scheme, members of the community are trained to graft and care for trees. Members of the community then act as volunteers to take care and maintain the orchard. The council aims to bring together volunteering and educational development across its parks and tree-planting programmes.

The impact

The community’s Brotton Orchard Project was planted in January 2022, with trees and planting support provided by the Countryside Team (a group of volunteers) and the Community Development Team. A total of 45 trees were planted, most of which have been successful. In the future, it is planned that wildflower areas, bulb planting and community engagement activities will be introduced.

The orchard projects have resulted in good community engagement and are being well looked after by the community. In 3-5 years’ time, these trees will begin to bear fruit which can be consumed by the community.

The council is measuring the number of people that get trained and the impact they have after they have received training - whether they continue volunteering and have a ripple effect.

Lessons learnt

These projects highlight the need for effective engagement and communication with residents at an early stage to ensure residents are aware of the aspiration, why it is being delivered this way and how they can participate.

Schools Incentive Scheme, Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council

The challenge

The present resource and funding challenge for councils makes it important to utilise low-cost effective interventions through local networks and to help people make changes themselves and with their communities. Schools reflect one part of this where there is the opportunity to realise an environmental education legacy for young people.

The solution

Since 2021, Redcar & Cleveland Council has been targeting schools to be greener through an incentives scheme that incorporates league tables and minor prizes to students.

The project to date has:

  • developed, created and shared a “joint energy management plan” for individual schools
  • incentivised the schools with an electricity reduction competition with a £1k voucher prize for most improved against target
  • carried out site energy monitoring alongside a ‘switch it off’ campaign and spot inspections
  • provided interactive presentations developed with student groups with good uptake and engagement
  • developed follow-up meetings where students present for 20-30 minutes to the council team and engage in a recycling challenge
  • purchased recycled items (pens, pencils, rulers, water bottles, tote bags, wildflower seeds etc) to make promotional goody bags to hand out at the second meetings
  • developed a 3rd round of engagement as a student council visit to a recycling facility, due for in late 2022 or early 2023
  • enabled the PFI contracts management team to commit to meeting with student groups termly to maintain presence and continuity
  • set up quarterly meetings with the facilities management provider to ensure improvements are identified and more importantly actioned
  • set up a termly meeting for all stakeholders with the council’s Energy Team and provided energy & waste reports.

The impact

The focus has been on not providing a one-size fits all approach to school decarbonisation but to encourage students to make recommendations to their schools. The league tables are based on school self-reporting and therefore there is an element of trust, whilst ongoing learning and best practice sharing can be facilitated and is part of the project monitoring.

To date, uptake has been better than expected. An emerging initiative is for a commitment to install water dispensers for refillable bottles in each school, whilst a facilities management company has committed £70,000 of L.E.D upgrades for this year.

Lessons learnt

A key element has been the role of awareness raising as the project progresses through the school term. The approach of giving schools a framework and only generic ideas has helped to realise benefits of student engagement and learning in this space.

Community Building Energy Efficiency, Redditch Borough Council, Midlands Net Zero Hub

The challenge

Climate emergency has been declared by councils in Worcestershire. This created an opportunity to bring together a unified set of targets that were shared across the districts of Worcestershire through the Local Enterprise Partnership’s Energy Strategy. A key part of these targets was decarbonising heat, which is challenging in the landscape of limited council resources, funding and capacity.  For example, buildings applying for PSDS funding had to meet hurdles for carbon saved in order to receive 100 per cent funding. This meant that fabric measures alone were not sufficient and that expertise was required to improve the approach and refine the bids.

The solution

The Midlands Net Zero Hub is fully funded by BEIS and has the capacity to support the respective councils including Redditch Borough Council. This support meant that project funding applications could be prepared well in advance using building assessments, developing recommended measures and estimating their cost, carbon and financial savings.

Redditch Borough Council’s estate team compiled a portfolio of buildings including the Town Hall and others of community use that could be eligible for PSDS funding. With expert support through the hub, buildings were considered with bills and consumption data analysis, which enabled a priority short-list to be developed. Collaboration with estates and building teams was important and site visits were undertaken to understand which intervention options were suitable. Costs were then developed using BEIS standard rates and local supplier quotes and a robust financial case could be made with building energy calculations. This was critical feedback to council teams, who were then able to prioritise fundable projects. It also allowed effective combinations of technology, and approaches could be developed. For example, a whole building approach and mix of technology can be critical for carbon and financial savings.

The impact

Redditch Borough Council received £1.2 million through the Salix scheme for building fabric, control measures and a heat pump. The project will save approximately 154 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. A co-benefit it is that the town hall now provides a much better working environment for staff and the running costs will be reduced slightly.

Lessons learned

  • Technology combinations can be used effectively - such as initial fabric measures to make heat pumps more feasible, and the use of solar PVs and their income to subsidise other heat saving measures that don't normally show a return.
  • Effective PR exercises will likely be needed for heat pumps to meet deployment targets given current perceptions and feedback, both for homeowners including social tenants and for council teams.
  • There is a recognition that stating that an intervention, such as heat pumps, has a higher running cost is a sticky message and that people tend to assume this is a big cost difference - where in reality it may be very small.
  • It was often the case that meters and control measures for community buildings (such as leisure centres) were not working effectively or were set badly – these reflect quick wins from good house-keeping in the community.

Effective carbon reduction approaches for large developments, Worcestershire councils, Midlands Net Zero Hub

The challenge

Local electricity grid quality can be a key barrier whether it is mid-level generation for solar, heat pumps or combined heat and power. Councils often do not have visibility of grid quality and it is therefore considered with DNOs on a development by development basis. For example, once councils go to the DNOs they may push back given cost or availability to connect – but at this point the work may have already progressed too far with commitments made, land secured and tenders provided. This limits the resulting types of occupiers and land use activities and negatively impacts the delivery of net zero aspirations.

Large scale developments have also been subject to limited developer interpretations of the stated need for them to consider carbon and energy reduction approaches. Local authorities have often found themselves on the back foot with developers and their technical responses..

The solution

A main role of the Midlands Net Zero Hub is to provide resource capacity and support to meet council gaps in expertise and time. Expertise was provided to Worcestershire to change this relationship with developers. Firstly, by working with the Local Enterprise Partnership to look at substations early in the process and undertaking a mapping exercise,  highlighting key substations with constraints.. This has enabled Worcestershire councils to re-examine and look at their development sites for where substations are marked red (no capacity) and green (capacity) and this can then be used to lobby the DNOs to improve the no capacity areas. This work is the first step in producing a county wide ‘Local Area Energy plan.

Expertise has also improved the scope, delivery and outcomes from developers by enabling councils to undertake robust feasibility tests of development plans. Meaningful engagement is undertaken to define terms and to test developer provisions, architectural drawings and estimates for energy efficiency. Through this, there can be refinement of what is possible and outcomes can ultimately be improved. Expertise has provided the capability to assess carbon saving scenarios and capacity requirements, as well as modelling alternative renewable sources. This can feed into site master-planning and earlier DNO discussions on capacity.

The impact

This approach can help align council aims for net zero with wider aims of attracting inward investment, delivering homes and employment land. For a specific major development site in Worcestershire, it has changed the scope of delivery at an early enough stage to maintain feasibility for renewable and energy efficiency solutions through the development phases.

Lessons learned

  • Clearly defining outcomes and terms at the outset with developers and key stakeholders is critical.
  • Limited early decision-making can then make it too costly to make improved energy efficiency interventions, such as heat networks - robust and early feasibility testing is crucial.
  • There are important interplays between energy efficiency interventions at the local level. For example, without cooperation the provision of a solar farm in one site may impact grid capacity to the extent that it halts the provision of other interventions (such as roof solar PVs) elsewhere and damage fuel poverty outcomes. A lack of cooperation between sites can create missed opportunities for (cheaper) local energy generation to be fed back to households.

Electric Vehicles - Revive Network, South Gloucestershire Council

The challenge

The provision of the EV charging network is limited by the commercial value of locations for market suppliers. This may mean that areas of community value and need are not served and will need to wait many years until the market is willing to provide. The West of England (WoE) local authorities (Bristol City Council, Bath and North East Somerset Council, North Somerset Council and South Gloucestershire Council) were committed to address this challenge, setting up the ‘Revive Network’.

The solution

The ‘Revive Network’ runs across authorities in the WoE, as a council-owned network with its operation and management completed by Bristol City Council on behalf of all the participating local authorities. This ensures the council oversees the maintenance, management and energy retailing responsibilities that go into the EV charge network. This is quite different to elsewhere in the EV market as the Network can look at community-based locations that have less density and commercial value. The Network seeks to blend the profitable locations with non-profitable locations where the use or density may not be high but there is significant social value and the social return is good. The overall requirement is that the Network must pay for itself through this location balance.

The selection of locations is supported by a study that South Gloucestershire Council undertook that identified locations including commercially non-viable sites but high in community value, as well as the national ORCS Funding Bid process that identified locations for EV charging investment. Alongside this, the councils actively encourage community groups and residents to register their interest through the Travel West website which is used by Revive to establish a ‘heat map’ for demand to support decision making for implementing new sites. Using our site selection assessment tools, the council explores numerous factors such as user demand, land ownership and the ease of installation. Once sites are scored and are able to work operationally without significant barriers then it can be taken forward to Revive Network for sign off, which checks how the site fits within the overall model of cost recovery.

The impact

As of April 2022, there were 157 public charging points in South Gloucestershire and 455 charging points across the West of England region.

Over the past 2 years, South Gloucestershire council have introduced 23 charging points to the public charging network, providing a total 46 Revive EV charging bays in South Gloucestershire. Using various funding sources, the council are seeking to introduce a further 18 charging points and 36 Revive charging bays in the next year. The council continues to explore the opportunities to support sites with high social value irrespective of commercial viability to help ensure equity of access to public charging facilities.

Lessons learned

It can be incredibly challenging to get EV charging schemes off the ground, even where the community has a clear want for it. When it comes to detailed site assessment and provision there are hidden project complexities and concerns that can emerge from the community for the picked locations. It can be difficult for community groups to resource this complexity and expert support and advice may be needed to ensure locations are adequately assessed to enable improved deliverability.

Going forward, EV car clubs are also being explored by South Gloucestershire Council as part of its climate emergency goals. The council remains keen to promote alternatives to private car ownership (such as support for widespread rollout of EV car clubs alongside other forms of shared mobility). The key challenge is in encouraging people to see car travel as a user model with community owned and less individual owned assets. Getting to a valuable local mass of assets and use should support this, and local engagement will be key.

Decarbonisation of Public Sector Buildings, London Borough of Barnet

The challenge

The London Borough of Barnet secured Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS) funding (PSDS1 and PSDS3) from BEIS to fund heat decarbonisation and energy efficiency measures in public buildings, including offices, schools, libraries and community services, with a focus on heat pumps. A key challenge installing energy efficiency measures, such as heat pumps and solar panels, is the additional electricity demand on local infrastructure. A further challenge was meeting the funding timescales, where measures had to be delivered within one year.

The solution

Barnet Council worked with a contractor sourced using the GLA’s ‘RE:Fit Accelerator - workspace’ framework to install 10 heat pumps across six sites for PSDS1. The majority of installations were relatively small heat pumps, around the size of an air conditioning unit, in buildings including libraries and a Family Services facility. The council also installed four large heat pumps at their Colindale headquarter office.  The PSDS1 focus was heat pumps but this can also be complemented beneficially by solar panels and LEDs, to offset the increased electricity consumption from heating with improved efficiency.

Barnet Council put out a call to community schools who met PSDS3 grant criteria (having a faulty boiler or one that was at least 15 years old) for their interest. Schools could be challenging to engage and secure buy-in due to having their own governance structure. The council found high-level early engagement worked well and in coordination with the council’s Education Director. Articulating the potential carbon and energy bill savings, was incentivising for schools, with all but one school choosing to proceed with the heat pump installations. The council found that public stakeholders like library managers were generally accommodating and positive about the installation, especially being incentivised with being able to have cheaper energy bills.

The impact

The grant funded projects have delivered energy, financial and carbon savings. PSDS1 has an estimated annual saving of 287 tonnes of carbon emissions and PSDS3 circa 750 tonnes. For financial savings, as savings net off maintenance costs, PSDS1 reflected £33,000 and PSDS3 £89,000 per annum. 

Barnet Council found that working with an expert contractor was crucial to enable the project to run smoothly. In response to the demanding funding timescale of one year, they utilised weekly updates from the contractor. There were unexpected events, such as members of the public climbing on the heat pumps which could have damaged the expensive equipment, the contractors were largely able to react quickly and provide repairs and maintenance, including fencing the heat pump off.

Barnet council also found that limiting consultation prior to the beginning of the project, to check for objections rather than consult on the solution or approach, was effective. The council first secured the funding and were led by the experts through the installation in advance of consultation. At this stage, stakeholders were informed what had been done, how much carbon would be saved and what had been learnt.

Lessons learned

The PSDS projects gave Barnet the opportunity to try installations for the first time and to get comfortable with them, it was a good learning process albeit within a challenging funding context.

  • Establish a positive long-term relationship with a reputable contractor. The GLA provided a pool of contractors from which the council was able to procure a successful contractor. The council developed a long-term relationship with them and established a ‘savings guaranteed’ approach - the contractor would have to revisit the work such as fix or install extra measures at their own costs to improve efficiency to the pre-agreed level of savings for the building. There is also benefit with one contractor designing and delivering the decarbonisation measures.
  • Establish a good understanding of the local infrastructure and engage with providers. Barnet Council found themselves impacted by many Local Authorities putting in Heat Pump applications and adding demands to the network. The Colindale site fortunately fell within an Opportunity Area and thus had recent upgrades; however, the local electricity network could not accommodate additional demand at other sites. This can lead to the council having to put money into the district network and this is de-incentivising as the drive is to put funding to the technology not the infrastructure. It also delays the project’s delivery of beneficial impacts. Barnet Council are liaising with UK Power Networks (UKPN) to influence and understand how and when they will be investing in the network, so there are not delays in turning on new heat pumps and PSDS3 and its larger sites can be progressed.

Homes Retrofit Measures within a Holistic Approach, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

The challenge

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council have brought together environmental, sustainability and carbon reduction objectives together under one strategy. The authority has agreed to a net zero target of 2032 and for the borough to achieve net zero by 2050. Domestic home decarbonisation is a key part of the wider 2050 net zero aims and assists with addressing fuel poverty whilst tackling inequalities. The council has focused on seeing this within a wider holistic approach to decarbonisation where nature-based solutions are critical in removing carbon and need to be embedded into the system. Nature-based solutions include tree planting, sustainable urban drainage systems (SuDS), wetlands management and biodiversity, and not over maintaining green spaces and changing some towards more wildly managed environments. An overarching challenge is funding the progress of some large impact projects, such as fleet electrification, therefore the council needs to ensure the most efficient use of funding to deliver change locally.

The solution

Retrofit is part of the solution and has been enabled with a combination of funding, including Warm Homes Fund, LAD2, HUG and ECO4. It has been looked at across the borough with consideration of income groups and housing types-tenure to identify the most in need. Different communication channels have been key to the work, and there have been experiences where getting the word out and overcoming the ‘sounds too good to be true’ mantle for home upgrade eligible funding has been challenging. The council is conscious of the demographics of different areas and wary of digital exclusion. To overcome this and respond to a particular areas’ needs the council team focused on leafleting selected areas and found the engagement rates and registrations increased soon after in these areas. Consultation has also utilised the well-established local youth forum and Stockton-on-Tees’ community volunteer network to support uptake.

The impact

Monitoring and evaluation is recognised to be a challenge resource wise, especially to do more than what is currently required by public funding streams. The council has worked with the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) to deliver carbon literacy training to officers across services, and some strategic partners, to support the development and embedding of its strategy and action plan.

Lessons learned

  • Build awareness and inform people of the “why”: For the nature-based solutions, a key success factor was to inform and build awareness of why the council is doing these. For example, with not mowing green space, as people can be critical if they do not know what is happening. Different communication channels and existing community partners are useful here.
  • There is a challenge to overly open consultation, for example asking people what they want brings up many things and may not be deliverable. Though open engagement channels have been selected at an early stage to understand community issues and pressures to then work with the community to develop solutions.
  • There is an important role for decarbonisation work at a borough-level. The council is delivering decarbonisation and the wider environmental strategy at the borough level but with considerations and consultations flexible to the more local level. It is also helpful to try to develop a wave of interventions, rather than stop-start work, and to ultimately create a legacy for residents.

Sustainable Warmth - Community Energy Groups, Devon County Council

The challenge

Retrofit is a key part of the decarbonisation agenda, and there has been a push by Devon County Council to increase uptake for the ‘able to pay’ market as well as to best use and target grant funding for households who are ‘unable to pay’ for such home upgrades. There are barriers to uptake including disruption and the increasing cost of the works. There are also acute supply chain challenges in the region with poor availability of credible suppliers for retrofit work.

The solution

The council has developed their Sustainable Warmth Fund for eligible households utilising funding including the LAD and HUG schemes. Devon has also developed a website and marketing campaign, including the Cosy Devon website, which has a long legacy and good reputation for giving advice and sharing information on retrofit work and available grants. The website will include an accessible retrofit guide being developed for Devon’s householders, in addition to a domestic retrofit suitability tool; Plan Builder and flashcard designed to give Householders an instant idea of how much carbon and money they can save by retrofitting their property.

Devon County Council has also partnered with community energy groups in the delivery of retrofit advice and support and this is modelled on the Carbon Co-op approach that has been effectively implemented in Greater Manchester. Though it is early days, these groups are seen as critical to developing support, knowledge and trust in retrofit work and in accessing those in fuel poverty. The community energy groups have in places developed to operate as suppliers themselves by building knowledge and training up retrofit assessors with Community Retrofit Accredited Training. Devon CC has also partnered with the Retrofit Academy to support this process of local capacity building.

The impact 

The latest registration process for retrofit support has over 300 residents signalling interest. The council is targeting 500 retrofits by the end of March and is anticipating a real push in the winter to meet this. However, there has been an insufficient supply chain to meet local demand. Residents have had reported waits of several months for works such as for solar panels and for initial retrofit assessments.

Lessons learned

There are significant challenges with the supply chain and its capacity. Firms who offer retrofit work are often from outside the area and lack local knowledge, whilst there have also been areas of low quality and rushed work which damages resident trust in retrofit and related work. There are not enough retrofit advisors, assessors, coordinators, designers, or evaluators as required under PAS-2035. These roles require high technical knowledge and the incentives for those who have the right skills to switch sectors are insufficient.

Building local capacity is important and community energy groups are one approach here. The Devon Community Energy Network and its community energy groups have had some excellent local success. This includes skills training, preparatory work for larger strategic fund applications, such as the Rural Community Energy Fund, and setting up Community Energy Companies.

Salt Ayre Leisure Centre Decarbonisation, Lancaster City Council

The challenge

Lancaster City Council declared a climate emergency after councillors unanimously voted to work towards creating a zero-carbon district by 2030. 

To prioritise resource and enable a data-led approach, the council developed a CO2 emissions dashboard that demonstrated nearly 60 per cent of emissions were from heating council buildings. A further breakdown showed some challenging sites including Town Halls, Museums and flagship parks, many of which are of a ‘listed’ status.

Salt Ayre Leisure Centre (SALC) was identified as being the single highest CO2 emitter, accounting for 34 per cent of the council’s natural gas emissions. A Building Heat Decarbonisation plan was undertaken for all sites and completed in March 2022.

The solution

The city council commissioned an Energy and Building Fabric Thermal Performance Appraisal for Salt Ayre Leisure Centre. The gas boilers at the centre were due for replacement and decarbonisation measures and technologies were reviewed. This included Solar Thermal, Biomass, Heat Pumps, CHP, modern gas boilers, roof replacement and overlays, curtain wall upgrades, glazing and LED lighting.

The council settled on options that generated the largest emission reductions and provided the best return on investment, based on BEIS projected energy costs. The preferred measures included a two-stage heat pump system, glazing and LED lighting.

The council was able to enhance outcomes and support their net zero strategy by developing options for a 1.3MW solar farm on a nearby, fully restored landfill site. This was then merged to create a comprehensive decarbonisation project.

The work was supported by Salix Finance, with the BEIS PSDS 1 funding. There were timescale challenges, officers submitted a funding application for the full scope of SALC decarbonisation work and were informed of its success in February 2021. Having ready partners and a streamlined process was vital given this timeline and as a result the full project was delivered within 12 months of funding being granted.

The impact 

A range of beneficial impacts have been measured, with the leisure centre becoming carbon neutral – believed to be one of the first in the country. The project saved over 640 tonnes of CO2 per annum and a 34 per cent CO2 reduction from natural gas for the council.  The project also delivered £156,000 of social value from local contractors and supply chains.

During peak times, the 1.3MW solar array has enabled the leisure centre to become ‘off-grid’ for up to 12 hours per day, with the remainder supported by a REGO-backed green energy tariff. Annual energy cost savings have been estimated to be as high as £240,000 per annum in 22/23.

The project was also delivered whilst maintaining an open and operational leisure centre, with disruptive work scheduled to take place overnight.

In September 2022, the project won the 2022 Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) award for ‘Best Climate Action / Decarbonisation Initiative’.

Lessons learned

Partner collaborations were critical to the successful delivery, filling known knowledge gaps to support the delivery of the project. Partners included APSE Energy, Unify Group, Roadnight Taylor and local planning consultants, HPA

The process was also necessarily streamlined with report submission and approval early on to accept PSDS funds and a delegated authority was provided to expedite decision making.