Strategy development: Plymouth and Nottingham, UK
Innovative research by Plymouth and Nottingham Councils highlights the need to focus energy efficiency schemes on the most vulnerable.
Photo Credit: Dom Moore
Plymouth City Council and Nottingham City Council are at the leading edge of work on fuel poverty and retrofit in the UK. Their recent programmes have taken innovative approaches, ensuring good customer experience, quality retrofit and local economic benefits. Their first hand experience of local authority-led retrofit delivery has highlighted some key issues in ensuring those most vulnerable can access retrofit programmes.
The mPower Activate project, a project incubator that enabled mPower Exchange participants to seed new projects, focuses on finding solutions to this challenge. Plymouth and Nottingham city councils worked together within mPower Activate to investigate ways to mobilise a wider stakeholder pool to support appropriate energy retrofit for the households most in need.
Photo Credit: Inspired Images on Pixabay
Plymouth is a city of 260,000 inhabitants in the county of Devon, Southwest England. Located on a large natural harbour, the city has long been one of the country’s most important ports. Its manufacturing sector and the harbour – once a transit port for migration to the Americas – still dominate the city’s economy and landscape. In recent decades, the city has faced a number of challenges: declining productivity, falling wages, and increasing poverty and inequality. The dockyard that once employed tens of thousands of people now only employs 2,500.
Citizens have experienced an erosion of economic stability, exacerbated by severe cuts in government spending on social support. In some areas the child poverty rate is 40%. There are districts where 35% or residents live in fuel poverty, which in turn impacts mental and physical health and worsens stress, including financial stress as people face unmanageable debts. Mental health in the city is poor and there is a high suicide rate.
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Nottingham is a historic English city in the East Midlands region with about 331,000 inhabitants and a wide range of sporting and cultural venues. The city and its Council have made headlines in recent years for leadership and innovation around the low-carbon and energy agendas.
Building on recent successes, the City Council declared a climate and ecological emergency, and set a nationally leading target to reach sustainable carbon neutrality by 2028, 22 years before the nation-wide goal. To reach this ambitious target, the Council has been taking bold steps: it introduced a levy on workplace parking spaces to help fund the expansion of a low-carbon tram network, continues to engage citizens in a year of carbon neutral thinking and the ongoing development of their 2028 Carbon Neutral Action Plan, and is committed to planting 50,000 new trees.
In Nottingham, energy poverty affects around 15% of households. In 2018 the Council made tackling energy poverty one of their top five priorities for Council-led action. Their five year strategy commits ‘to reduce energy bills, increase thermal comfort and well-being in the coldest and most vulnerable homes and to improve Nottingham City’s Fuel Poverty rate.’
Centrally-run programmes miss the most vulnerable
Existing home energy efficiency schemes in the UK are structured on the basis of delivering the most interventions for the lowest cost. Interventions are procured in bulk and not personalised. More costly and complicated interventions miss out on funding. This means that harder to treat properties, and households with complex needs, are disfavoured because intervention for them is more difficult and expensive. Local Authorities could see this often meant that those suffering the most due to their housing conditions were least likely to benefit from schemes.
Nottingham City Council and Plymouth City Council have worked collaboratively to investigate how they can change things to deliver whole-house retrofit to those most vulnerable. They argue there need to be fundamental changes to the way that current programmes are delivered.
This change would involve increased support for those most vulnerable through trusted independent advice, an incentive mechanism that rewards a holistic approach over a cost savings approach, and more sustainable, longer-term finance mechanisms, something that has been elusive to date in the UK.
To confront this issue, Plymouth and Nottingham wanted to increase the potential of local partnerships of stakeholders. Where co-benefits of retrofit exist, these stakeholders might be able to collaborate, potentially opening up access to more sustainable long-term finance.
To support this partnership model, the mPower Activate group saw value in developing a person-centred approach to ensure the co-benefits were realised. Dr Alice Jones was commissioned to investigate this, and a report was published in December 2021.
Credit: Credit: Dr Alice Jones
The report showed that collaboration could be through local anchor networks with other local institutions like the hospitals, energy system operators, employers and educational institutions. Through these networks the most vulnerable can be better targeted, and those institutions that benefit from retrofit can contribute financially with more stability to support for Local Authorities providing services. Positive impacts would not only be on social imperatives like fuel poverty but on the local economy, the energy system, health institutions, and education.
Edited from text provided by Justin Bear, Plymouth City Council, Jonathan Ward, City of Nottingham & Activate project blog series