Boroughs seek £115m retrofitting boost ‘to secure London’s environmental and economic future’

  • By JackGraves

London boroughs are calling on the government to “seize the day” and increase funding for councils to retrofit energy inefficient buildings.

Boroughs have identified 375 shovel-ready projects presenting a £1.35 billion pipeline of "green recovery" activity – including the retrofitting of 18 large-scale public buildings, 29 schools, and thousands of homes across the capital. London local authorities are already funding more than £950 million of the costs but need an additional £115 million in 2020/21 to make progress on the full list of retrofitting projects.  

In its submission to the government’s upcoming spending review, the cross-party umbrella group London Councils argues that urgent investment in green infrastructure and retrofitting will secure immense environmental and economic benefits. London Councils highlights the following:

  • Buildings are among the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, with homes and workplaces estimated to account for 78% of CO2 emissions in London. Investment in energy efficiency and low-carbon heating is essential if the UK is to meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • Retrofitting energy inefficient buildings reduces energy bills and associated fuel poverty. London has among the highest fuel poverty rates in England, with 11.4% of households in the capital classed as ‘fuel poor’.
  • In the face of a worsening economic downturn, an estimated 2,000 jobs would be created through the additional government funding, while also stimulating demand for new, clean technology and supporting upskilling in the sector.
  • Boroughs have already improved the efficiency of over 32,000 London homes and around 700 public sector buildings since 2016, demonstrating a proven delivery track record.
  • With local authority budgets currently under severe strain due to the impact of Covid-19 – with London boroughs expecting an £800 million shortfall this year – the government’s spending review is a vital opportunity to invest additional resources in local green infrastructure activity.   

Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney and Chair of London Councils’ Transport and Environment Committee, said:

“Investment in a green recovery is essential for securing our environmental and economic future. We’ve identified shovel-ready projects and are eager to do our bit – but councils urgently need more support from the government.

“The investment case is a no-brainer. Funding retrofitting projects brings immediate benefits to Londoners such as new jobs and lower fuel bills while also addressing the climate emergency and helping us reduce carbon emissions.  

“London boroughs are fully committed to the green recovery agenda and are putting significant resources into retrofitting. But in the face of both the economic and the climate crisis, ministers should seize the day and use the upcoming spending review to boost funding for this crucial work.”

Waltham Forest is an example of a borough investing in a range of energy efficiency measures to reduce its carbon emissions. By spending more than £2.4 million on efficiency improvements over the past decade, the borough has reduced its carbon emissions by 2,721 tonnes of CO2 a year – equivalent to taking over 530 cars off the streets of Waltham Forest each year.

Cllr Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader and Lead Member for Environment at Waltham Forest Council, said:

“It is critical at this time that the government invest additional resources in local green infrastructure activity, enabling councils to make significant financial and energy savings by retrofitting their own buildings and housing stock, and providing support to residents that want to follow suit.

“Being able to invest in and deliver a range of energy efficiency projects improves the quality of buildings and street lighting, while simultaneously tackling the decarbonisation challenge and providing huge CO2 savings.

“Not only are local authorities faced with severe financial shortfalls in the face of Covid-19, but we’re still trying to tackle the climate emergency and become more sustainable. Providing long-term support to green infrastructure projects will go a long way to address this, from energy savings, cost efficiencies to more jobs in the economic recovery of the country.”

Although several boroughs successfully applied for funds under the government’s Green Homes Grants Local Authority Delivery Scheme, London Councils points to serious flaws undermining the scheme’s effectiveness. Local authorities were given just one month (August 2020) to make submissions to phase 1a of the scheme and projects will need to be completed by March 2021 to be eligible. This means that many councils have been unable to maximise their submissions and have struggled to include projects.

Boroughs are urging the government to improve long-term support for the financing of retrofitting, including the introduction of a separate borrowing rate at the Public Works Loans Board for councils to access finance for green infrastructure.

London Councils’ submission to the spending review makes the case for restoring stability to local government finances and giving boroughs greater assurance over future funding for services and infrastructure. Even though London’s population has grown by 12% over the past decade (almost twice the rate of growth across the rest of England) and boroughs now serve nearly a million more people than in 2010, council budgets have endured consistent reductions in recent years. The overall resources available to London local government fell by over a quarter in real terms since 2010-11.