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Government pledge to simplify retrofitting of listed buildings

In a climate where energy efficiency is one of the primary requirements of our buildings – both old and new – England’s 350,000 listed homes and the 2.8 million that are situated in conservation areas have long been problematic in this regard.

A new Government review titled: Adapting historic homes for energy efficiency: a review of the barriers sets out to address these issues.

The report has been published by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, The Department for Energy Security & Net Zero and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.

Buildings remain the UK’s second highest-emitting sector, accounting for 17% of total emissions. Furthermore, the UK has the oldest building stock in Europe with 36% of it built before 1944.

Needless to say, planning was identified as a major barrier to the retrofitting of energy efficiency and low carbon heating measures such as solar panels, heat pumps and double glazing.

While 93% of applications are approved, it is the length of the process that was frustrating. There are around 27,000 listed building consent applications to local planning authorities per year, with only 76% of applications decided within the expected 8-week timescale.

Cost is another issue, with a 2022 survey of the owners and occupiers of listed buildings finding that cost was the most significant obstacle to retrofitting.

 The review concludes with a summary of 55 ‘current actions and future commitments’ designed to enable the efficient retrofitting of such properties,. These include:

  • Delivery of planning reform so that it supports good design and environmental outcomes better, is less complex, and easier to engage with.
  • Publish a Historic England Advice Note (HEAN) on Climate Change and Historic Building Adaptation to help decision-makers deliver climate action while protecting heritage
  • Development of a new online training platform that can provide training to local authorities
  • Set out clearly which energy efficiency measures need planning permission or listed building consent
  • Explore how retrofit funding programmes can support complex-to-decarbonise homes and historic buildings.

Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK said: ‘It is plain to see that there is far too much bureaucracy getting in the way of installing solar panels and other energy upgrades, where they can be done in an appropriate and respectful fashion, on England’s older buildings. So I am glad to see that the government is pushing forward with making the confusing series of existing rules clearer, while easing them in the longer term.’

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