Overview & Scrutiny: Retrofitting, Housing, Fuel Poverty and a dash of hypocrisy
Housing, housing, housing, it’s all about housing.
On the agenda at the Overview & Scrutiny Committee held on the 17 Jan 2023 was Retrofitting Council homes in the Folkestone & Hythe District.
Retrofitting is the latest and much-needed trend in reaching net-zero targets. Retrofitting refers to any improvement work on an existing building to improve its energy efficiency, making them easier to heat, able to retain that heat for longer, and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.
The Council’s approach to retrofitting is as follows:
Our Council have a plan! The plan is called the Housing Carbon Reduction Plan. Along with that comes the Housing Revenue Account Business Plan, and how they’ll financially achieve net zero through retrofitting by 2050. The Housing Carbon Reduction Plan was presented to the Overview & Scrutiny Committee by the Chief Officer of Housing, Gill Butler, and Andy Blaszkowicz Corporate Director For Housing & Operations.
The Council’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) is for Social Housing, or rather Council owned homes, of which there are 3,395. The HRA is ringfenced and cannot be raided by the Council for use outside of housing. The Council’s agreed balance which must be kept in the HRA is £2m.
One of the issues discussed was the challenges facing the HRA and how to balance this.
If one looks at the above image it states “EPC ‘C’ by 2030 (circa 1,000 homes)”.
Much like the multi-coloured sticker on new appliances, Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) tell you how energy efficient a building is and give it a rating from A (very efficient) to G (inefficient). They’ll tell you how costly it will be to heat and light your property, and what its carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be.
The government made changes to the Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) for England and Wales in late 2021 stating that as of 2025, all rental properties will need an EPC rating of ‘C’ or above, with similar changes coming into effect in 2028 to include all tenancies. This new EPC legislation hope to make homes more energy-efficient and reduce carbon emissions in line with the government net-zero carbon target by 2050.
As of the 18 Jan 2023, one can see on the Government’s EPC rating page that there are expired EPCs in Council property, and six homes which are D rated for EPCs at Rowan Court
The same is true for Romney Marsh House in Orgarswick Ave Dymchurch, which has six homes with EPC ratings above D and one expired EPC.
And at Mittell Court Vinelands Lydd, there are 13 homes with EPCs above C and three expired EPCs
At Nailbourne Court, Lyminge, there are 17 EPCs above the C rating and 0 expired EPCs
So the higher your EPC the more costly it is to heat your home. Now given there are 5,733 households in fuel poverty, in the Folkestone & Hythe Constituency, according to the House of Commons Library Data, the Councils EPCs need addressing sooner rather than later, as we are in a cost of living crisis and heating homes costs a fortune for those on low incomes.
Our constituency has the highest number of households in fuel poverty of any parliamentary constituency in Kent.
Let’s not forget, the former Assistant Director of Housing, John Holman made it clear to Folkestone & Hythe District and Parish Councils’ Joint Committee on the 15th July 2021, retrofitting Council Homes to meet the Net Zero Carbon Agenda by 2050, will cost between £68 to £100 million over 30 years.
Now one of the ironies is that a number of sitting Cllrs have expired EPCs on their homes. Under the rules homeowners only need a valid EPC if they are going to sell their homes. Updating their EPCs will allow Cllrs to discover how they can lower their carbon emissions. Given all are Cllrs who want to lower emissions, it seems strange they are failing to act. Is it a case of: do as I say, not as I do?
The Cllrs with expired EPCs, as 18 Jan 2023 are:
Cllr Laura Davison (Lab)
Cllr Jackie Meade (Lab)
Cllr Tim Prater (Lib Dem)
Cllr Rebecca Shoob (Green)
Cllr Georgina Treloar (Green)
Cllr David Wimble (FHIG)
Moving on, the income from the Council housing rents will increase by 7%, from April 2023. This means the Council will raise £18.5m in 2023/24. Their expenditure on making Council homes meet the Decent Homes Standards in 2023/24 will be £6,111,950; which is a drop of 20% from the previous year. We note in 2022/23 the budget for thermal insulation (fabric first) was £1,449,900. In 2023/24 this will fall to £0.
However, with tenants living with damp & mould and other issues, due to poor maintenance and poor thermal insulation, future announcements from the regulator of social housing, will we expect, have a pronounced effect on the Housing Revenue Account budget throughout 2023/24, and possibly beyond.
Retrofitting is all about going green and reducing emissions; which harm the environment.
The greatest emissions from Council assets comes from their Council Homes. It was four years ago Folkestone & Hythe District Council declared a Climate & Ecological Emergency in July 2019. Four years on our Council are just beginning to implement change to reduce its carbon emissions. All things in our Council take time, and one is reminded of the quote: “What a man can do in a day, takes a committee a year” has never rung so true.
Even though all Cllrs voted for the Climate & Ecological emergency, little has changed in reducing our emissions to protect our wonderful environment, our fantasticly fabulous district.
That’s something to think about when you vote in the local elections in May 2023.
The Shepway Vox Team
Journalism for the People NOT the Powerful
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