18 Dec 2012

12m for renewables and fuel poverty in Stroud

Last night was Housing Advisory Panel at Ebley Mill where tenants, officers and councillors come together - a key discussion was the Asset Management Strategy. The paper represents a long history of work with tenants, officers and councillors....more in a moment but also wanted to note the rent increase looks likely to be 2.8% which is still alot but lower that the Government had planned (with their convergence policy) and likely to be the lowest in Gloucestershire - and sheltered accom charges wont go up.

Stroud District were also the first Council in the country to win national accreditation recognising their commitment to tenant participation. I made the point at the meeting that good tenant participation adds far more value than it costs in £s....anyway....

Back in 2009 and early 2010 I chaired a Scrutiny Task and Finish group into measures the Council can take to tackle climate change. Among the recommendations, that were all accepted at that time, was an Energy Strategy for the Council. Well in 2010 I then chaired another Task and Finish Group, to consider the value of the Decent Homes Standard for our Council housing stock.

In April last year we reported - again calling for the Energy Strategy plus a number of other measures including developing with tenants, the ‘Stroud Housing Standard’ - our own standard that could include Decent Homes standard, Lettable Standards and measures relating to energy efficiency.

Our housing stock presents some particularly huge challenges - these challenges wont be new to members, officers or tenants - for example 1,700 - that's 30% of our homes - are considered 'hard to treat' homes with very low energy efficiency ratings. So I am delighted that we are now at the next step - the Energy Strategy accepted and the Stroud Standard just in need of some refinement.

One key point I made is that the urgency cannot be overestimated. This week the Fuel Poverty* Advisory Group, an advisory non-departmental public body, are reported in the press saying that 300,000 more homes have fallen into difficulty this winter and millions could follow without urgent government action. They estimate 9.1 million households could fall into fuel poverty by 2016 - already six million households are in fuel poverty.

We have thousands of deaths attributed to the cold weather - far higher than in colder countries, such as Finland, Germany or Sweden. The NHS advises one of the best ways of keeping yourself well during winter is to stay warm when at home. Overall, according to the Chief Medical Officer, illnesses caused by cold homes cost the NHS more than 850 million pounds a year. Over the last five years at least 7800 people have died every year due to living in cold homes – four times more than the number of people who died on British roads in 2011.

A report by the Institute of Public Policy Research, says the new Energy Company Obligation measures to help fuel poor households could backfire as it will take only help between 125,000 and 250,000 out of fuel poverty by 2023. The  Energy Company Obligation is designed to cut bills of poor households by forcing suppliers to fit solid wall insulation, offer energy efficient boilers and other energy-saving measures - it could add up to £116 to the average bill and push families that did not receive support further into fuel poverty.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has meanwhile penciled in more pain for households next year with further above-inflation rises on gas and electricity bills. Meanwhile our shopping baskets may soon feel the effects of a 10 per cent rise in commodities such as wheat and sugar over the summer.

So with all this I have been delighted that Exec member, Green councillor Simon Pickering has been working with the Green, Labour, Lib Dem administration who look set to invest £12m; £5m next year and £7m in 2014/15 with a further million each year for the following three years. This is a big boost indeed but still doesn't go far enough!! But a great great start that I only dreamt of 3 years ago.....

*A household is considered to be in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel for adequate heating.

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