CASE STUDY: Somerset West and Taunton Council, sent by Marcus Prouse (Specialist – Governance and Democratic)

Posted on 17/05/2023 by Megan Ingle.

Somerset West and Taunton Council declared a climate emergency in 2019 (motion proposed by Cllr Mansell) and adopted a Corporate Strategy with a priority theme on Our Environment and Economy Objective 1: Work towards making our District carbon neutral by 2030. In early 2021 Cllr Mansell, a member of the Council’s Scrutiny Committee, suggested an item for the Forward Plan, with Scrutiny Committee then resolving to establish a Task and Finish Group that looked at funding sources and approaches for a zero carbon retrofit programme of SWT’s council housing stock (5,700 homes).

The Task and Finish Group worked well, holding 8 online meetings between May and November 2021 on a range of topics, which included effective insulation, avoiding problems from damp and mould, heat pumps, boiler replacement, working with tenants and zero carbon standards. Presentations were made by social housing providers and retrofit experts, with further research undertaken of published case studies and established programmes, such as Energiesprong and Optimised Retrofit (Wales). Executive members and senior officers were supportive of the work and attended most of the meetings.

The group made recommendations aiming to assist the council in finding a workable strategy for making the housing stock zero carbon. These included the adoption of a whole house and fabric first approach, planned and responsive maintenance budgets contributing to the investment required, and following relevant zero carbon guidance, such as that provided by LETI. A final report was presented to Scrutiny Committee in early 2022, who recommended it to the Executive, who were also supportive of the findings. Officers advised there was a high degree of alignment between their thoughts and the conclusions of the Task and Finish Group, although some areas where views differed, such as on the timing of boiler replacements. The Housing Directorate built-on the approach proposed to prepare a Low Carbon Retrofit Strategy and Delivery Plan, which has been considered by Scrutiny Committee and the Executive, and is now recommended for adoption by the Council in December 2022.

A £135m programme is planned (average of £23,700 per property) that works closely with tenants. Retrofit work will be undertaken in stages alongside compatible Decent Homes improvements. Whole house insulation will aim to reduce the average heat demand of warm homes to 50 kWh/m2/year and provide heat pumps and electric heating, so that zero carbon is achieved across the housing stock by 2050. The council will invest in the programme, with further grants and funding sought from Government and energy suppliers.