Kirklees Council – ahead of the energy-saving curve

Author: 15/12/2014

Councillor Andrew Cooper of Kirklees Council discusses how the local authority has been so successful in achieving ground-breaking energy-saving activities over a number of years.

Andrew, what sparked your interest in energy issues?

In early 90s I was an Estate Management Officer looking after 400 council houses. Pensioners would often complain about their cold homes and high fuel bills. At the time, we used the HEES scheme to get their homes insulated, which just offered loft insulation. We also bought some energy-efficient CFL light bulbs and we even installed six solar thermal water heaters in pensioners' homes, which was really quite innovative for the early 1990s and, importantly, we got into the practice of learning as we went along.

I then went on to be the Kirkless Council's Energy Efficiency Coordinator and, in 1999, I stood in the local elections as a Green Party Councillor and was elected. What's interesting is that from that time until the present day, we've had a hung council so it’s been possible for Green Party Councillors to exert quite a lot of influence at Kirklees.  

I'm also on the Climate Local Steering Group of the Local Government Association (LGA) to look at best practice across the climate change and adaptation sector in local government.

What have been your greatest energy efficiency successes at Kirklees?

Our greatest success was in 2007 when we agreed an amendment to the council budget which gave us the UK’s first universally free insulation scheme for cavities and lofts. 50,000 private sector homes were insulated under that programme and we won a national award for the scheme.

Secondly, we set up a scheme where householders could get a loan of up to £10,000 to install solar PV and then put it as a charge on their property, and this was all well before feed-in tariffs became available.

Thirdly, we set our own standard for buildings that the council was procuring. For example, we insisted that 30% of the building energy use needed to come from on-site renewables.

What are your next big energy efficiency challenges in Kirklees?

Kirklees, like every council, is suffering from lack of capacity and lack of funding. We have fewer officers to put together project ideas and less money to jointly fund activities with partners, so it's undoubtedly a difficult time. So, the important thing is to think imaginatively about what can be done. At the moment I'm working on putting together expressions of interest to the private sector to invite them to offer what can be done in partnership with us, around renewable energy, using the council’s own land and built assets as a resource. This way, we can achieve some revenue for the council and share that with private sector partners. This could involve PV, biomass cropping, etc. Quite a lot of councils have some land so we think there's some opportunity here.

What would you say to a council that only had a budget of £5,000 to spend on energy efficiency - how could they best spend this money?

To gain impact, try and get a concentrated insulation project or to target the most vulnerable. Right now there's a lot of interest on the health and housing issue. Adopting a ‘spend to save’ approach and working with partners in public health (eg: the Clinical Commissioning Groups) is a way to get them interested in energy, by showing them the associated health benefits. Overall, use your limited budget and build a case for more support, based upon the wider benefits that you can bring.

What would be your top tip to a council officer to help them get political support for their energy efficiency efforts?

Make the case around public health, the contribution to the local economy, money in people’s pockets, tackling poverty and climate change. These are all things that politicians will respond to. Make your council aware of the benefits of working with private sector partners but also be aware that your council's brand is worth a lot so don’t sell it cheap.

Members will want to see real action happen so have something that can be readily delivered to get their support.

What do you think is still needed to make Green Deal and ECO work properly?

Commitment from central government is vital. What we really need is to recognise that if we do believe in climate change then we need to implement policies that have urgency behind them, which means changing priorities and spending money on those priorities. Some initiatives such as Trident and HS2 have billions of central government funding spent on them. If you think of what £150 billion could achieve if it were spent on energy efficiency, the result would be enormous. This could provide a large-scale, free scheme for householders and revolutionise the energy efficiency of the country.

At the moment, polices are just too complex, too difficult and don’t work.

What would you like ‘Zero Carbon Homes’ actually to mean?

It should be what it says on the tin! It does seem like a trick question; how much carbon does a zero-carbon home produce?

We actually think that PassivHaus offers a better solution than the Code for Sustainable Homes because it gives the householder a better experience.  We're looking at specifying PassivHaus standard on council-owned land that's sold for development.

I think it was a real shame that Allowable Solutions wasn’t linked directly to the local authority but it does offer an opportunity and we do think councils should work though the Local Government Association to help establish an Allowable Solutions Agency which could help coordinate funding though to local projects.

Andrew, thanks for your time.