Carbon Co-op Domestic Retrofit listening event

by Blog

On Monday 19th February 2018, The Mayor’s Green Summit Listening Event on domestic housing retrofit organised by Carbon Co-op, took place at Churchgate House with 27 attendees drawn from householders, supply chain companies and support organisations from around Greater Manchester.

About the event

The aim was to come up with a set of recommendations on housing retrofit to incorporate in to the Mayor’s Charter, to be launched at the Summit in March, but also to input more generally in to policy making on this topic at a Greater Manchester level in the medium to long term. There was also an acknowledgement that there are some things Andy Burnham and GMCA (Greater Manchester Combined Authority) can deliver and some things they can’t and a set of recommendations was also made to Carbon Co-op and other civil society groups and to national government.

Graph of ambitious carbon reduction targets

The event was structured with a couple of brief presentations followed by over an hour of facilitated small group discussions on specific themes (encouraging demand, supply chain finance and ambition and standards), split in to two sessions, to enable the event to benefit from the expertise in the room, to maximise time for input, discussion and debate from participants and to allow people to cover a number of topics. There was then a feedback session and finally each participant said which action they felt was most important on the subject.

Setting the scene

With an absence of government policy and action on energy efficiency since the implosion of the Green Deal there is clearly now a role for local authority action to kick start activity.

The first presentation was from Mark Atherton, lead officer at the Low Carbon Hub, putting domestic retrofit in to the wider GM decarbonisation context. With ambitious carbon reductions needed soon, a programme of energy efficiency works is a key delivery channel for this.

Mark Atherton of GMCA’s Presentation at GM Listening Event

Mark Atherton of GM Low Carbon Hub presenting.

Marianne Heaslip, retrofit practitioner and architect at URBED outlined some of the opportunities and pitfalls within the retrofit sector, warning of the growing scandal around poor delivery of EWI works at a scheme in Preston. But she also outlined examples of deep, whole house retrofit delivered by Carbon Co-op that demonstrate the scale, quality and ambition of carbon saving possible from energy efficiency measures – if done properly.

Marianne Heaslip’s Presentation

Marianne Heaslip of URBED presenting at the listening event

Summary of the key recommendations from the four themes

1. How can we build demand from householders, registered providers and private landlords in Greater Manchester for retrofit? Are there policies or regulations GMCA could introduce to help?

There was lots of discussion around educating householders and the need to simplify the terminology and jargon used in energy efficiency to make it more palatable and understandable to the average householder.

People felt it was important to dis-incentivise and penalise bad landlords and businesses that are failing to improve the energy efficiency of their properties and buildings and that a public campaign should highlight and stigmatise those that fail to act.

We know that it is far cheaper to take action to mitigate climate change now, rather than in the future and participants felt there was a need to financialise this gap in order to drive action now – something for government action.

Finally, they felt there was a need to make data on home energy performance publicly available eg in league tables of EPC ratings for landlords etc to drive action.

Attendees in discussion at the listening event

2. How can we assist in the development of a supply chain in Greater Manchester to deliver retrofit works? What role does GMCA have in growing the number of businesses here? What allowances do we need to make for training and educating a new workforce?

Participants felt we needed to set standards for supply chain businesses both within Greater Manchester and also UK-wide – mandating retrofitting to a ‘2050 building standard’ as soon as 2020. It was felt that higher national and local standards should be twinned with increased accountability for trades through enforcement at the local level.

They felt GMCA could co-ordinate a supplier rating system with legally mandated training standards. They felt a GMCA registration scheme for builders would build trust and could be possibly allied with an incentive scheme so that companies delivering quality works would be rewarded via grants, enabling lower consumer costs and encouraging demand

They felt there was an opportunity for a publicly owned, direct works retrofit company to support new skills development and work with universities in developing innovative new approaches.

At the Government level they felt there was a need for training and for a review of building regs in order to encourage retrofit and greater energy efficiency.

Attendees in discussion at the listening event

3. How can new finance options for domestic retrofit be created in Greater Manchester? What role does GMCA have in this? How can we mobilise the large amounts of capital needed to fund retrofit works across the city region?

Participants in this group sought to address access to affordable finance for retrofit and wanted to extend low cost interest loans for retrofit already available in some areas, to all areas of GM increasing the scale of the loans in order to cover the costs of retrofit. They wanted to band these loans so that lower interest rates were available to those making deeper cuts to their energy use.

There was an interest in local authorities investing money in to council-owned properties in order to scale and grow the sector and that there should be a commitment to ring fencing a portion of the Greater Manchester pension funds for retrofit.

There was discussion around incentivising landlords to take action where bills are not included in rent and the need to ask government to extend the weak legislation around minimum EPC levels required to rent a property.

On Energy Company Obligation funding, they felt DNOs were more appropriate delivery vehicles for ECO funding and that this could be matched with municipal finance funding.

Attendees in discussion at the listening event

4. What should be the ambition of retrofit in Greater Manchester? What quality standards and targets should be set for domestic retrofit in Greater Manchester and what role might GMCA have in this process?

Participants felt there was a need for a Greater Manchester retrofit standard to raise the level of ambition and quality, possibly linked to or informed by existing ones developed by Centre for Alternative Technology or the AECB Carbon Lite Retrofit, with an understanding that such standards should not just be limited to energy efficiency but also health, comfort, equality and other social factors. The point was made that the certainty provided by a standard would help with the development of a quality retrofit supply chain – perversely, part of the failure to get quality works is the failure to ask for quality works!

Building regs were again mentioned with the need for an upgrade of existing standards – with consequential improvements for house extensions, etc.

It was also noted that unlike many other EU countries, UK relies on modelled data for evaluating energy performance, something that has the potential to overlook performance gap and quality issues, and there was a suggestion that quality standards use real, monitored data.

They felt householders should be helped to understand what can be done in their homes and that the Home Information Pack (HIP) should be revived, a digital record of past and future potential works for the next home owner.

Whole area retrofit programmes utilising innovative methodologies and technologies with a link up with social landlords were felt to be an excellent delivery model.

Finally, there was a call for ‘Building physics’ training for contractors and builders, so that supply chain companies have a full understanding of the rationale and wider purpose of energy efficiency techniques, products and works as well as a better understanding of what can go wrong if these are not adhered to.

Attendees in discussion at the listening event

Final go round

At the end each participant was asked for their personal take on the most important recommendation for housing retrofit in Greater Manchester?

  • Education and training hub (x2 votes)
  • Disincentives for landlords
  • Contractor training X2
  • Registration scheme for builders
  • League tables for landlord’s properties
  • Education campaigns X2
  • Higher minimum EPC standards in the rental sector
  • A GMCA municipal works company x2
  • Improved procurement
  • Higher standards
  • An innovative whole area retrofit programme
  • An agreed GM 2050 retrofit standard matched to low cost finance X2
  • Council tax reform

Mark Atherton closed the meeting by thanking attendees for their attendance and reflecting that GMCA has a to consider in an area which is a significant opportunity but also a real challenge. Though not making a preference on a ‘most important action’ his thinking was that a number of actions could be combined in to a viable plan.

Carbon Co-op Recommendations for GMCA

  1. Work with key partners to formate a Greater Manchester 2050 Retrofit standard raising the level of ambition in the city region for carbon reduction, quality and other social factors
  2. Pilot a low cost loan fund for domestic retrofit, with lower rates of interest for higher energy savings, explicitly link this fund to the works meeting the GM 2050 Retrofit Standard
  3. Pilot an area-based retrofit project in GM, housing association and community-based partners and utilising local supply chain training and developing an accreditation scheme with a view to piloting a municipal retrofit delivery model.
  4. Articulate this in an updated Greater Manchester Retrofit Strategy document, creating a focus for change and setting ambition high for the city region


  • On the whole we’re really pleased with the way the event went, the small group discussion format was very effective at getting engagement from all attendees.
  • Small groups seemed to work better with facilitators for each group than they had at previous events without facilitation. It’s labour intensive with a need for knowledgable volunteers and it required a two page brief to be written (which not all facilitators stick to!) but it definitely paid off in terms of quality of participation.
  • 27 people attended but 40 people had booked and the event was sold out with a waiting list of 11 – obviously this is disappointing – though in mitigation, there was a sudden breakdown in the tram network and the event felt no less full or vibrant. As organisers we need to think about how to ensure people who book attend. Thanks to a couple of emails making it clear that the event was fully booked a good few people did cancel their orders rather than not show, though many of these were on the day when the waiting list people had little opportunity to change plans and attend. One thought is to overbook the event – though I worry these creates even more ambivalence on the part of attendees.
  • 2 hours is a tight amount of time to fully investigate a subject like domestic retrofit – though as above, it’s hard to ensure people will attend and not taking too much time is part of that.

Carbon Co-op would like to say a big thank you to everyone who braved the weather and the trams and contributed to the evening!

Attendees in discussion at the listening event