News and views from Paul Bull, the Labour and Co-operative Councillor for the St THOMAS Ward of Exeter City Council. Promoted by Dom Collins on behalf of Paul Bull, both of 26b, Clifton Hill, Exeter, EX1 2DJ.
EXETER City Council has submitted planning applications for seven of their own Laings Easiform properties.
The seven homes, on what is known as the Buddle Lane estate, are empty and the proposal is to demolish and rebuild them.
Planning applications for a further 10 of these properties are expected by the end of the month.
Local councillor Paul Bull explained the background: “The Laing Easiform method of construction consists of cast-in-situ concrete cavity walls, most of which have failed over time because of the expansion of steel reinforcement or movement. That said, there has never been any risk to tenants.
“In the 1990s, Exeter City Council formed a partnership with Sovereign Housing and used a trickle transfer agreement whereby the housing association took the properties on a 125-year lease and refurbished them using government grants as and when they became available. “More than 100 homes were renovated in this way.
“In 2010 the grants dried up, and the city council looked to new ways to improve the remaining 21 properties. Three were refurbished by the city council when they became vacant.
“However, pressures on the Housing Revenue Account meant this wasn’t a cost effective way of proceeding with the remaining 20 – one having been sold off in December 2014.”
Cllr Bull added: “The aim of the proposals is to demolish the existing properties which have been structurally condemned and replace them with new properties which comply with modern day standards and are more thermally efficient.
“The front elevation will remain mostly unaffected in terms of appearance and the layout has been developed to provide each property with a ground floor WC, kitchen/diner, lounge, first-floor bathroom and three bedrooms.”
Fellow local councillor, Hannah PacKham added: “With tenders for the work coming soon, work is expected to start in early August.
“The plan is to have a staggered start – one property every three weeks, and it is expected that the total works will take 18 months.
“The whole project is based on the need to have 10 vacant properties at any one time and this is be achieved with a combination of permanent and temporary moves while the new homes are being built.
“It’s good to see progress being made at long last.
“There have been delays to the programme caused by the work needed to remedy the water ingress in some of the council’s properties due to the winter storms two years ago, and I was worried that the government’s planned changes to the housing revenue account might delay the works even more.”
Cllr Packham added: “When the city council has such a robust Empty Homes Strategy in the private sector, it is essential we set an example with our own social housing.”
The Buddle Lane housing estate [centred around Newman Road and Merrivale Road] in Cowick is made of up 294 family houses built using the Laing’s Easiform building system in the Twenties and Thirties.
The Laing Easiform method of construction was intended to be cutting edge, to be fast and cost effective to build and to meet the nation’s need for housing and consisted of cast-in-situ concrete cavity walls.
These Laing homes were intended to be cutting edge, to be fast and cost effective to build and to meet the nation’s need for housing,
But in the 1980s a number of faults came to light and many have failed because of the expansion of steel reinforcement or movement. That said, there is no risk to tenants.
The homes required a significant investment to bring them up to the required Decent Homes standard and it was not considered cost effective for the council to do this.
So ECC and Sovereign Housing formed a partnership in the Nineties using a “trickle transfer” agreement whereby the housing association took the properties on a 125-year lease and refurbished them as and when they became available.
Around 100 properties, worth more than £10m, were transferred to Sovereign at £1 each as part of the agreement, who then spent between £80,000 and £90,000 carrying out the improvements on each home. The cost of this refurbishment was met using solely Sovereign’s Recycled Capital Grant Fund from the Homes & Communities Agency [HCA].
When the coalition government came to power in 2010, they made changes to the HCA which made it harder for Sovereign to claim the grants to carry out the refurbishments.
In addition, Sovereign would have been required to charge *affordable* rent [80% of market rent] for the properties, whereas ECC could continue to charge the truly affordable lower rent – social rent – at 50% of market rent.
The upshot of all this was that the “trickle transfer” of properties to Sovereign stalled – and by the time I was elected May 2011, 3 of the city council’s 21 Laing homes stood empty [57 Newman Road, 44 Merrivale Road and 40 Myrtle Road]
And despite pressure from me, they stood empty for some considerable time.
In 2012, when ECC were preparing the Business Plan to proceed with a £57m loan to take over their existing social housing stock under “self-financing”, the stock condition of ECC’s 5000+ homes listed 406 non-traditional properties:
and the stock profile noted:
5.11 The Council has negotiated a ‘trickle-transfer’ process for the Laing homes whereby empty homes are given to a housing association to refurbish, along with a small amount of grant. In some cases the Council provides additional grant funding so that the transferred property can be extended to create a four-bedroom house or have extensive disabled adaptations incorporated for a specific family in need. This work costs the Council tens of thousands of pounds less than paying for refurbishment itself. The Council will therefore continue to pursue this approach where possible.
And still the Laing Easiforms remained empty.
That was until a plan was hatched and presented to the Executive Committee on 03 July 2012.
By this time, the tenure mix of the Laing Homes was21 owned by Exeter City Council, 104 transferred to Sovereign Housing Association and 169 purchased under the Right to Buy scheme.
The Executive considered 6 options, summarised below:
The review concluded that the best option for the Council would be to retain the ownership of these homes and refurbish them using HRA funding (Option1). With “self-financing” of the HRA, the Council would have access to the funding necessary to carry out the refurbishment work that it hasn’t had in the past.
This option would mean that the ownership with the Council and ensures that these properties are let at Social Rent levels.
It was recommended that Option 1 be adopted: namely to end the trickle transfer of Laings homes to Sovereign Housing Association, for the Council to retain them as part of their HRA portfolio and for a programme of refurbishment to be put in place as and when Laing homes become vacant.
But still they stayed vacant…until work started in the winter of 2013.
However, the story doesn’t end there…7 more are now vacant and in need of attention.
Pressure on the Housing Revenue Account [principally in the form of £2m needed to tackle the damp ingress that occurred during the winter storms of 2014] has meant the planned programme was delayed.
And new pressures on the HRA, has meant that the refurbishment programme has had to be radically rethought.
This week, planning applications were submitted for 7 of the 20 Easiform properties [one other being sold off in December 2014]:
and it is expected that the planning applications for the remaining properties will be lodged by the end of the month.
Each application is for the demolition and reconstruction of the existing property.
The aim of the proposals are to demolish the existing properties which have been structurally condemned and replace them with new properties which comply with modern day standards and are more thermally efficient.
The front elevation will remain mostly unaffected in terms of appearance and the layout has been developed to provide each property with a ground floor WC, kitchen/diner, lounge, first floor bathroom and 3 bedrooms.
After going out to tender, it is hoped to start work on site at the beginning of August 2016
It is anticipated that the total works period will be 18 months – it will be a rolling programme with a staggered start: 1 property every 3 weeks, with a total works period of 18 months.
To complete this programme there will be a need to have 10 vacant properties at any one time. This will be achieved with a combination of permanent and temporary moves outside of the estate, and then temporary moves within the 17 properties being worked on.
During the period from when I first became interest in this group of Laing Easiform properities, they have always been described as being in St THOMAS rather than COWICK.
Now this past of the old Cowick ward is becoming a part of the new St Thomas ward, it was a shock to read in the Design and Access Statements accompanying the planning applications:
‘The property to which this statement relates is situated in the EXWICK area of Exeter.”
Not everything I write for the newsletter actually ends up in the newsletter:
Back in 2011, when he first stood for election in Cowick, Cllr Paul Bull noticed an empty property on Newman Road.
“I looked very run-down and in need of some loving care. I wondered why it had fallen into this state of repair.”
Paul found that the empty property was a Laings’ Easi-Form building, and there were 2 other examples of this non-conventional construction type were laying empty in Cowick.
“I found out that they were in need of varying amounts of structural repair, and up until then, ECC Housing Department would normally transfer this type of stock to Sovereign Housing Association, who had easier access to grants to bring them up to a habitable standard. But those grants were become harder to get”
Paul was becoming frustrated. “I was sitting on committees approving an Empty Homes Strategy, yet in my own ward I knew there were 3 such properties, and these had been empty for some time.”
The issue of refurbishing these Laing Easiform properties was discussed by Exeter City Council’s Executive on 03 July 2012, where they agreed ECC would retain ownership of the remaining 21 properties and keep the income and the repairing obligations associated with ownership. This option would require a total refurbishment investment by the Council of at least £1.58m, which would be increased if any of the properties were able to have extensions. This expenditure would need to be funded from the HRA but it would only be payable as and when the Laings homes became vacant and refurbished
As a result of pressure from Paul and his co-councillor Heather Morris, ECC looked at new and innovative ways to restore and refurbish the properties.
Three years on, the properties are now occupied and were recently shortlisted as Best Energy Efficient Building Scheme in the prestigious Green Energy Awards 2014 organised by Regen SW.
Paul says: “I am always keen to promote green initiatives and the conversions of these 3 properties have put my green ideals into practice.
“Before work started these properties were very poor in terms of energy efficiency. Through a range of measures brought together in the refurbishment, they are now new homes with high levels of insulation that will be more economic to occupy.”
Paul concludes: I am pleased that the refurbishment of these properties has been recognised nationally and acts as a replicable pilot for other housing stock of similar construction type in Cowick and elsewhere.”
The refurbishment of 3 Laing Easiform properties within Cowick have been short-listed in Best Energy-Efficient Scheme category of the SW Green Energy Awards 2014 organised by Regen SW.
3. Exeter City Council
Exeter City Council has completed a refurbishment of 3 non-traditional, hard to-treat properties in the St Thomas area to very high standards of thermal efficiency. The refurbishment of these properties acts as a replicable pilot for other housing stock (of similar construction type) in the area.
1. What are the environmental benefits of the scheme including units of energy delivered and carbon saved on a monthly or yearly basis?
Prior to the works being undertaken the buildings were very poor in terms of thermal efficiency, before the work they were producing 5.1 tonnes of carbon per year, following the works they achieved 2.1 tonnes of carbon per year. The work has also produced a significant reduction in their energy requirements going from 426 kwh/m2 per year to 171 kwh/m2 per year.
This means they have less impact on the environment while remaining comfortable for the occupants. The old electric water and space heating system has been replaced by a high efficiency combination boiler and the windows have been renewed with triple glazed windows. Ventilation is provided by a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery unit.
2. What are benefits of the scheme for the local area, e.g. through cost savings to local organisations and involvement of local supply chains
The scheme was prompted by the need to bring back three non traditional construction type properties into residential use. These properties had been empty for a number of years and required varying amounts of structural works. The work was procured following the Exeter City Councils procurement procedures and policies and was awarded to a regional contractor, Jones Building Group, the contract included all structural, refurbishment and energy efficiency works. During the delivery of the project local contractors were used to undertake the majority of the works and the properties were used on two occasions by the Energy Saving Trust to provide tool box talks to local suppliers, contractors, architects and designers.
Once the works were completed the three properties were occupied by tenants direct from the Councils waiting list so providing them with a new home with high levels of insulation that will be more economic to occupy.
3. What is the significance of the scheme on a county, regional or national level? Is it a first, is it replicable?
Regionally this project was unique in the number of energy efficiency matters it brought together in one building. Very often there are programmes to deliver one or two of the measures we carried out but for this project we took a much more holistic approach and dealt with all aspects although a major focus was given to the insulation of the building fabric. The depth of the external wall insulation was 160mm which is more than is usually specified but we wanted to see if this could be achieved and what would the outcome be in terms of not only energy efficiency but also visual appearance. We wanted these properties to act as a trial to what could be replicated when future units became empty, certain aspects we will be carrying forward to other properties but others will not. For example a lot of money was spent on the new triple glazed windows but we feel that similar performance can be achieved with cheaper products. This then delivers better value for money for the Council allowing us to carry out the works to more properties within the budget allowed.
Refurbishment of three Laing Easiform houses for Exeter City Council
Following a competitive procurement exercise in the Spring of 2013, we were appointed to carry out energy efficiency refurbishment works to three non-traditional buildings. A range of measures were carried out including:
One property required the demolition and reconstruction of the outer skin
Installation of Resi Ties to all elevations of all three proper-ties
New drainage and landscaping works
Demolition of internal partitions and reconstruction in insulated studwork
Renewal of all ceilings
Lining external walls and first floor ceilings to achieve air tightness using Intello System barrier
Removal of ground floors and reconstruction using an insulated concrete floor
Lining all external walls with plasterboard and skim on counter battens
New doors and linings/frames
New bathrooms and kitchens
New electrical installation
New plumbing installation
Gas fired central heating
Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery
We worked closely with Exeter City Council, Suppliers and Subcontractors to ensure that the full benefit of the measures would be realised.
The project was supported, and partially funded by the Ready for Retrofit programme and the Energy Savings Trust, and supported by Regen South West.
At the opening on 26th February the Energy Saving Trust’s technical expert, Steven Stenlund, lead a discussion of the building fabric approach and technical detailing of the project, which maximised the thermal comfort of the homes. Steven was complimentary regarding the air test score achieved which he said were approaching the Passivhaus standard.
The project has brought three Laings Easiform properties of hard-to-treat non-traditional construction back into use and used various technologies to improve their thermal efficiency. The Council has a further 21 of these property types in its portfolio and so the refurbished units will act as a template for future refurbishment works.
Thanks to Peter Hart (Project Manager) and Ian Fowliss (Site Manager) for delivering an excellent standard which was complimented by all those who attended the official opening ceremony.
Well done to the Exeter team who are half way through an innovative project to completely renovate 3 properties to make them ultra energy efficient. Externally they are having 160mm insulation with a silicone render finish. Internally they have been completely gutted and have been enveloped with an air tight membrane.
Once completed each property was then tested for any heat loss. I am pleased to say they passed with flying colours. The properties will also benefit from improved thermal performance to external walls, new central heating enhanced by Mechanical Heat Recovery and Ventilation systems also incorporating Solar Energy.
One property has had to have all external walls removed and new external block walls with insulation render. This project is going very well.