Snatching a moment to add another item to this blog raised Wednesday night by Green Group leader Sarah Lunnon at Full Council - have another issue to also raise here re Council but that will have to wait as my Mum in hospital so I'll be seeing her today - and sadly missing the Gaza vigil today at 11.30 in Stroud.
Photo: Insulation products on show at Randwick Village Hall during the Open Homes event
Anyway the WISE (Well Insulated Saving Energy) Homes Project, 'Hard to Treat Insulation' is for the ‘Able to Pay’ Sector. Hard to treat insulation means those houses with solid walls and/or rooms in the attic - about 30% of houses in Stroud District are thought to be in this category! SDC has been giving grants since 2002 to private householders (see more below). Some expertise among Council staff and builders has been built-up. The total has only been about £30,000 per year. However this has now 'come to an end and not been renewed' in the 2009/10 budget.
There is continued funding for heat pumps for hard to treat houses (off mains gas) but not to insulate - this doesn't seem the right way to go as we need to target energy efficiency first - but then the heat pumps were linked to other sources of funding. The 'logic' for cutting these grants is that the SDC has hardly enough to meet its statutory obligations of private houses of people on low incomes not meeting the decent homes standard. They are therefore prioritising these.
This is understandable to some extent if funds are limited - targeting homes of people on low income is sensible, but encouraging insulation by the less poor saves carbon too - particularly when this is such an important area - the money is peanuts in the overall budget yet was starting to make a difference and raising awareness that will lead to more action by householders in the paying category - Greens will be looking at ways to ensure this innovative project continues - the answers given at Full Council still seemed to leave the door open for opportunities so we'll keep fingers crossed and push this one a little more.
What we need is a free insulation scheme for all householders like the Green group achieved in Kirklees - indeed Scotland are now considering the idea - see more here and here. Indeed as regular blog readers will know I hope we can also do this in Stroud but there seems to have been some resistance to taking forward the idea - however I sense things are again moving in the right direction - but must dash now....
There was a feasibility study in 2003 - the WISE Homes project received funding from the Energy Saving Trust to cover coordination and marketing activity over a two-year period from 2004-06. The scheme targeted “hard to treat” homes; those which have a lot to gain from energy efficiency improvements but have features which make this difficult to achieve (rooms in the roof, solid walls, no mains gas). It was a joint project with Cotswold District Council each authority agreeing to provide £40,000 each year for the two years of the project. This funding was for capital works to be allocated through the WISE Homes grant scheme. Those occupying ‘hard to treat’ properties were offered information and advice and a home visit. During the visit householders had the chance to discuss in detail the relative merits of some of the less well-known measures, such as installations of solar water heating panels, sloping ceiling insulation, a clean wood pellet-fuelled heating systems, interior solid wall insulation and high efficiency oil and gas boilers. Following the visit which involved a full NHER energy assessment the client received a home energy action plan with recommendations for their individual property. The WISE grant scheme was designed to complement the recommendations. At the end of the project in March 2006 across the two districts 180 home energy action plans had been issued and 49 measures were installed through the WISE grant scheme and a further 52 through referral to other grant schemes. Cotswold District Council decided it did not have funding to continue the project. Stroud District Council has over the last 3 years continued to allocate funding of £40,000 each year for capital works and staffing resources to continue advice, home visits and the home energy action plans.
The WISE Homes grant scheme includes a range of eligible works;
· Sloping ceiling /flat roof insulation
· Solid wall insulation
· Underfloor insulation
· Heating installations or upgrade (only available to those on low incomes)
· Micro renewable installations
The individual grant funding available per applicant depends upon whether they are on low income or in fuel poverty or within the ‘able to pay’ category. In order to stimulate the market and raise awareness of the benefits of solid wall and ceiling insulation a 40% grant up to a limit of £1000 is available regardless of income (able to pay category) and/or £500 towards a micro renewable installation. At the time the project was launched very little was being done regarding Hard to Treat properties and this was a very innovative project from which a lot of information has been gained as well as installations achieved. Since 2006 however, there have been some very positive legislative changes elsewhere in the domestic housing market which have a bearing on the hard to treat problem.
1. The Fitness Standard against which all private sector properties were measured was replaced in 2006 with the Housing Health & Safety Rating System. For the first time this assessment placed an emphasis on the health effect of the property on the occupants rather than the physical condition. The HHSRS includes a specific assessment of the property with regard to cold and damp. The LA has a statutory duty to take action where a category 1 hazard has been identified.
2. The Decent Homes standard was extended to include the private sector with a PSA7 target introduced for local authorities to ensure that 70% of vulnerable people occupy decent housing by 2010.
3. Building Regulations requirements now require significant improvement in insulation and heating standards to the whole property when works are carried out.
The budget available for the implementation of the Private Sector Housing Renewal policy in 2008/9 is £652,000, the budget for 2009/10 is reducing to £502,000. The Private Sector Housing budget is not alone in receiving reduced future funding as the funding available to the Council is under pressure in all areas. The availability of all grants under the policy have always been subject to there being budget available at the time an application is made.
The WISE Homes scheme is about more than just grant aid and will continue in 2009/10 although the current grant regime cannot continue as there is currently no SDC funding identified for insulation works. Staff within Environmental Health have built up a strong knowledge base and staffing resources will still be available to provide advice, information and encouragement to those wishing to improve the energy efficiency and energy consumption of their hard to treat homes. The WISE homes project has in the last 18 months made good progress in stimulating the market for hard to treat insulation with an Installers Network being established.
Whilst there is no doubt that the continued availability of grant aid to the ‘able to pay’ sector would further enhance this local installers base, progress is likely to continue without grant funding, albeit at a slower pace. Specified capital grant allocation is received for bringing homes occupied by vulnerable persons up to the decent homes standard and additional allocation has been awarded for 2009/10 following a successful project bid. Those who are vulnerable or in fuel poverty and their homes are identified as having a category 1 health hazard due to cold and damp will be eligible to apply for funding towards hard to treat insulation works to reduce the hazard through the proposed Home Repair Loan funded by the private sector renewal allocation. The ‘able to pay’ sector are not eligible for this externally sourced funding.
In 2008/9, the WISE homes Renewable grant has been the main mechanism for delivery against the LAA target in relation to the installation of renewable energy. SDC have been successful in drawing in significant additional funding from the County Council towards these works. Funding of £10,000 is available in 2009/10 for the £1,000 WISE homes Renewable Grants. This funding is from a £10,000 capital growth item linked to the S2S heat pump project and again will be used to draw in additional County Council funds.
When making recommendations for the targeting of the capital funds available, Officers have considered the eligibility of projects for the available funding and the Council’s statutory obligations to the most vulnerable. It is not considered appropriate to allocate discretionary funding to the able to pay sector especially where in some circumstances they now have a legal obligation to carry out the works when the Council is facing a significant deficit in the DFG budget. The Council is still making significant funds available for other climate change projects where there is a wider community benefit to be achieved such as the continuation of the Target 2050 project and the approval of significant capital growth for the S2S heat pumps project.