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The Regional Democracy Think Tank for West Yorkshire

A warm, healthy and climate friendly home for everyone in West Yorkshire

By David Barns, Andy Boyle, Jamie Keats, Neil Mckenna, David Nugent, Kate Simpson, Andy Walker and Andrew Wilson

The problem and the opportunity

Our region is in urgent need of Better Homes that are fit for the future. ‘Better’ means improving neighbourhoods, and ensuring homes are comfortable, affordable to heat, healthy, safe and climate resilient while aligned with the net zero commitments1.

The Mayor has a unique opportunity to tackle the climate emergency, reduce fuel poverty and improve the quality of homes for the people of West Yorkshire. As we outline below, the Mayor can deliver this by committing to a massive increase in whole-house retrofitting across the region.

A personal commitment by the Mayor to mobilise the region to support West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s (WYCA) ‘Better Homes Yorkshire’ strategy2 can play a central role in a green and inclusive recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. This strategy can assist in delivering home upgrades for 950,000 households in West Yorkshire while addressing fuel poverty, tackling the climate emergency, creating significant wider social value3, and unlocking 42,000 skilled jobs2 and £29bn-£46bn of investment4.

At the moment, many of the existing houses are so far below a decent standard that around 100,0005 households in West Yorkshire experience fuel poverty: people in our region are having to choose between heating their home or putting food on the table.

Damp and cold homes exacerbate a range of physical and mental health issues6 including respiratory problems, strokes, heart-attacks, anxiety and depression, and it is estimated this costs the NHS in West Yorkshire around £5.8m each year7.

These same badly insulated and expensive to heat houses contribute 3.4 million8 tonnes CO2 to the climate emergency every year, 31% of the region’s emissions9.

The Mayor has a unique opportunity to tackle all these issues at once through delivering a massive increase in housing retrofit in West Yorkshire.

Retrofit is a term used for ‘energy efficient refurbishment’ and may include fabric efficiency measures such as insulation as well as heat, power, cooling, ventilation and water, all of which can improve thermal comfort, while supporting climate resilience, for example reducing the risk of flood damage and overheating or extreme cold in homes. Ideally this is done by considering the whole property and future climate risks with a holistic approach9.

The existing challenges to retrofit at scale are complex and multi-layered. They are fortunately also well defined and understood10 and gaining momentum in government policy and funding.

A recent Construction Leadership Council proposal for a National Retrofit Programme11 presents exactly the joined-up effort required to mobilise supply and demand in the market. It has been endorsed by a broad range of key regional stakeholders including Leeds City Council and Bradford City Council.

The WYCA ‘Better Homes Yorkshire’ strategy aligns with the National Retrofit Strategy and demonstrates the level of regional ambition and leadership that is possible. It has been recently endorsed by the West Yorkshire Housing Partnership who themselves present the opportunity to tackle both fuel poverty and the climate emergency.12

The WYCA strategy demonstrates how policy, technical, demand, supply chain and financial stimulus need to work together to scale up the market at the rate necessary. Great stuff happening in West Yorkshire. We already have a network of capable teams in the region who can be mobilised to deliver retrofit, at scale, with backing from the Mayor.

This network includes:

  • The Kirklees Warm Zone scheme, which fitted insulation in 51,000 homes (2007-2010) and is one of the largest retrofit schemes in the UK to date13.

  • Strong leadership on climate and an inclusive recovery across the region’s local authorities including Leeds City Council and Bradford City Council’s development of neighbourhood based approaches for retrofit.

  • The authors of WYCA’s Better Homes Strategy with its focus on developing a network.

  • Otley Energy who are working with WYCA as part of a regional and national open-source network of key industry organisations and launching a community funded ‘one-stop-shop’ business model.

  • Social housing providers such as the West Yorkshire Housing Partnership making climate commitments.

  • Empty home renovators including Canopy and Latch14.

  • Industry leading builders, including Sure Insulation who were involved in writing the Haynes retrofit manual15.

  • Leeds College of Building which is the UK’s only college dedicated to construction.

  • University of Leeds, who have carried out extensive research on retrofit, including on the supply chain network16, co-creation of solutions17 and sustainable behaviour change research18.

  • Leeds Beckett University who have pioneered building performance evaluation methods over the last two decades19.

This network is a ‘Community of Interest’ ready to go, it just needs the commitment, convening and coordinating powers that the Mayor can bring.

What the Mayor can do

The following recommendations focus on how the Mayor can play a pivotal role in bringing together all the elements needed for a transformational retrofitting programme in West Yorkshire.

  1. Make a Better Homes programme a key commitment to demonstrate the importance and positive potential of the agenda.
  2. Create and host a Mayor’s Better Homes forum to mobilise and galvanise all stakeholders to support the programme.
  3. Rigorously apply the principles of community wealth building20 and just transition21 to the Better Homes programme.
  4. Establish a regional hub to coordinate the programme and the necessary knowledge sharing, collaboration and regional capacity building.
  5. Bring together social housing organisations to prioritise fuel poverty and provide a launch pad of sufficient scale to stimulate the market.
  6. Engage with the West Yorkshire business community to send a signal of long term commitment to the sector and encourage the co-design of the support they need to benefit from the programme.

David Barns
David is a postgraduate researcher in low carbon energy systems at the Priestley International Centre for Climate, University of Leeds. He has a background in local government, delivering energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for social housing. David is a founding member of Our Future Leeds, a citizen-led response to climate emergency which is working for a zero-carbon, nature friendly, socially just Leeds by the 2030s.

Andy Boyle
A former partner in an accountancy and business advisory practice I’m working on how we build the knowledge, skills, behaviours, business and finance models across all sections of society to accelerate the transformation to a sustainable, low carbon and inclusive economy.

Jamie Keats
Jamie is an architectural designer at Citu, the sustainable urban property developer based in Leeds.

Neil Mckenna
Neil is a PhD researcher at the University of Leeds. He works with community-led housing groups in Leeds and West Yorkshire, undertaking action research to support better place-making, democracy and social justice in housing. Neil is also an urban Planner with Tibbalds Planning & Urban Design and a chartered member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).

David Nugent
David leads Canopy Housing, a UN Habitat award-winning self-help housing organisation based in Leeds. He also serves on the Boards of Leeds Community Homes and GIPSIL Homes. He originally trained as an architect and has worked in housing for more than twenty years. He recently completed an MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation and is committed to the promotion and use of sustainable, natural materials.

Kate Simpson
Kate is currently exploring data use in building retrofit decision-making, as a visiting researcher to The Alan Turing Institute under their Data Centric Engineering Programme, through the Data-Driven Design under Uncertainty Grand Challenge. This builds on 10 years of building energy and retrofit research, most recently identifying the skills and knowledge required to achieve sustainable construction at the University of Leeds.

Andy Walker
Andy Walker is an engineer and project manager by training. In 2010 he founded the social enterprise SURE Insulation to meet the growing demand for high specification insulation work, and was then invited to be the Technical Editor and a Co-Author of the best selling ‘Haynes Manual on Home Insulation’. Andy is a Fellow of the Leeds Sustainability Institute and has given guest lectures and spoken at conferences including a Keynote Speech at the International Sustainable Ecological Engineering Design for Society Conference.

Andy Wilson
I experiment with structures to facilitate collaboration and have been one of the co-founders and main organisers of para-lab (2017-) and Superposition (2013-2017), both collectives of artists and scientists; The Making Space, a cooperatively run shared workspace (2013-); Same Skies (2015-); and two co-operatives to develop software.


  1. West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) (2020) Combined Authority declares Climate Emergency, Retrieved from: 

  2. WYCA (2020) Scaling up Better Homes, a report to the Green Economy Panel. Retrieved from: 

  3. UK Green Building Council (2021) Framework for defining social value, retrieved from: 

  4. UK Green Building Council (2021) (Regional estimate based on figures for Leeds referenced in the following report): Retrofit funding propositions, retrieved from: Analysis carried out by ARUP and Parity Projects as part of a BEIS funded City Decarbonisation project 

  5. BEIS (2020) Sub-regional fuel poverty data 2020, retrieved from: 

  6. Jennings, N., Fecht, D. and Matteis, S.D. (2020) Mapping the co-benefits of climate change action to issues of public concern in the UK: a narrative review, The Lancet Planetary Health, 

  7. Age UK (2012) Cold homes cost NHS £1.36 billion, retrieved from: 

  8. BEIS (2020) UK local authority and regional carbon dioxide emissions national statistics: 2005 to 2018, retrieved from: 

  9. Climate Change Committee (CCC) (2019) UK Housing: Fit for the future? Retrieved 24th February 2021 from: 

  10. UK Green Building Council(2020) The Retrofit Playbook, retrieved from: 

  11. Construction Leadership Council (2020) National Retrofit strategy consultative document, retrieved from: 

  12. Together Housing (2020) Housing Associations, Devolution and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, retrieved from: 

  13. Webber, P. Gouldson, A. and Kerr, N. (2015) The impacts of household retrofit and domestic energy efficiency schemes: A large scale, ex post evaluation, Energy Policy, Vol. 84, pp.35-43 

  14. Latch (2014) Very low carbon building improvements for Leeds Victorian terrace homes: A guidance manual. Retrieved from: 

  15. Sure Insulation (2013) Haynes Home Insulation Manual. Retrieved 24th February 2021 from: 

  16. Killip, G, Owen, A. Topouzi, M. (2020) Exploring the practices and roles of UK construction manufacturers and merchants in relation to housing energy retrofit, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 251, 

  17. University of Leeds (2021) Leeds Living Lab, retrieved 25th February 2021 from: 

  18. Murtagh, N., Owen. A. And Simpson, K. (2021) What motivates building repair-maintenance practitioners to include or avoid energy efficiency measures? Evidence from three studies in the United Kingdom, Energy Research & Social Science, 

  19. Leeds Beckett University, Sustainability Research Institute (2021) Retrofit performance evaluation, Retrieved from: 

  20. Centre for Local Economic Strategies (2021) What is community wealth building, retrieved from: 

  21. London School of Economics and Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (2020) Policy brief Financing a just transition to net-zero emissions in the UK housing sector 

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