by Philip Sellwood

The sobering financial realities of the present moment may appear daunting – especially since our targets to cut carbon emissions are as urgent as ever, demanding immediate and necessary attention.

On the back of the Comprehensive Spending Review, local authorities are  finding themselves juggling local priorities – including the need to help residents cut their fuel bills, and to drive down carbon emissions from their areas.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The local authorities that come to us for advice can see how the economic benefits of sustainability stack up: reducing fuel poverty in their area, giving local residents more disposable income, and offering a chance for a direct income stream through schemes like feed-in tariffs.

We have worked with over 140 local authorities to look at new ways of doing things; working in partnership to pull in funding targeted at the areas where biggest carbon and bill savings can be made on a local level.

Just last week our partners at the Greater Manchester Environment Commission won a £10 million boost to give nearly 3,000 homes in the region a low-carbon makeover.

The multi-million pound investment will provide improvements –  including solar energy, wood chip fuel, thermal cladding and updated boilers – to homes in five social housing projects.

The insulation and biomass heating will slash householders’ bills by over £20 million. It will support more than 122 jobs in the low-carbon industry, and will cut carbon emissions by 100,000 tonnes over the lifetime of the projects.

The Energy Saving Trust helped Greater Manchester prepare their bid – first by using our experience and data to analyse  the housing stock and energy-efficiency measures, and second by advising on leveraging funding. We will be monitoring and evaluating progress every step of the way.

The partnership involves ten local authorities, as well as local firms and Universities. It’s true that a great partnership can attract great investment, and in this case the scheme was innovatively funded by money from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), matched by investment from utility companies and other private sector investments.

As the Chair of Greater Manchester’s Environment Commission, Cllr Dave Goddard, said: “This is great news for all these families and for the environment. We are sending a big thank you for the hard work put into winning these funds by a range of partner organisations. This excellent partnership shows how Greater Manchester is at the forefront of housing retrofit.

“The technology that is being used is amazing. Families will be able to do their bit in improving life for themselves and for future generations. Local businesses tender for work and support the local economy. Everyone’s a winner.”

These are the kind of sustainable changes that we need to make to all our homes over coming years, if we are to hit our emissions reduction targets. Greater Manchester is going to be the trail blazer on this front.

But we don’t want this to be a one-off. We plan to talk to local authorities around the country now about how similar projects could be delivered in their regions, and how they can co-ordinate resources and leverage funds from the commercial sector and Europe.

Ultimately this is about how, despite the cuts, carbon emission reductions can still be achieved by local authorities.