As winter approaches, new data shows a massive drop in Government-funded projects to upgrade cold and draughty homes in North East England.
In 2022/23, projects in the region drawing on the Government’s ECO scheme – which supports work to insulate draughty homes and install modern heating systems – were just 18% of the total reached in 2021/22. This means that households in the North East could be missing out on lifetime energy savings of over £50m.
Meanwhile, upgrades-per-month under the Government’s Sustainable Warmth Scheme were just 15% of the initiative it replaced.
Although the North East leads the UK on homes upgraded through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, less than 2,000 homes have been upgraded through this scheme, a fraction of the region’s fuel poor homes.
Ashden has warned that stalling progress will keep families trapped in fuel poverty – and waste the chance to create jobs in the region’s most deprived communities.
Ashden wants politicians in the North East to prioritise the issue. It urges them to call for greater investment and support from national government, and to do what they can to replicate trailblazing schemes and projects across the region, highlighted in a new report.
Its message is backed by organisations including Citizens Advice Northumberland, Sunderland training provider RE:geon, Groundwork North East and Cumbria, and national retrofit experts MCS Charitable Foundation.
Cara Jenkinson, Cities Manager at Ashden, says: “As we head into the winter with energy prices staying high, it is shocking that home insulation rates have dropped off a cliff in the North East. We look to the government and opposition parties to deliver ambitious change, sparking a triple win for energy bills, carbon emissions and local jobs.”
Lisa Locke, Head of Business Development at charity Groundwork North East and Cumbria which provides impartial energy advice to residents in the North East said: “Our Green Doctor work has highlighted growing fuel poverty in the North East region and we need to collaboratively ramp up home insulation now, which can cut bills and create good local jobs.”
With national and mayoral elections coming in 2024, Ashden calls on the region’s councillors and prospective parliamentary candidates to prioritise the issue in their parties’ plans and manifestos.
The figures that show home upgrades are a crucial issue for North East England
169,000 households in North-East England, or 13.1% are officially fuel poor. Sorting by type of occupancy, private rented homes have the worst energy efficiency in the region – 28% are rated ‘non-decent’ under the Government’s energy performance certificate (EPC) scheme.
Fuel poverty worsens the North East’s health challenges. Life expectancy for men and women is 1.8 and 1.6 years below the English average, and the gap is even greater for years lived in good health (3.8/4.5).
Think tank IPPR North reports that a £7bn a year national retrofit programme would create 60,000 jobs in the North East. But action must include developing a skilled workforce to take on upgrade projects. Currently, the region has just 3% of the UK’s construction workers.
Report highlights solutions
A new Ashden report – Upgrading homes in North East England: the case for action – features case studies of success from the region.
These include a project installing heat pumps and smart thermostats in tower blocks in West Denton, Newcastle, and a package of measures that brought new insulation, solar panels and more to 215 homes in Sunderland.
The report also spotlights RE:geon, a Sunderland training provider working with employers to give local young people the skills for a career in retrofit.
The report includes detailed policy recommendations for local, regional and national government. These include calls fora a £60billion national retrofit strategy, and national retrofit skills plan. It also urges action to replace the current disjointed and inflexible retrofit schemes, by devolving funds to local areas through allocation rather than competition.
Between January 2022 and August 2023, 539 homes in North East England were upgraded through the government’s Sustainable Warmth Scheme (Local Authority Delivery Scheme Phase 3 + Home Upgrade Grant). 4,288 were upgraded through the previous iteration of the scheme (called the Local Authority Delivery Scheme phase 1 & 2) between August 2020 and June 2022.