Oxford City Council (OCC) has announced that it will spend £50m retrofitting and improving the energy efficiency of council housing in Oxford.

The investment aims to ensure all council tenants are living in a property which meets at least the UK Government’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Band C rating by 2030, which is the third highest energy rating possible. Retrofitting homes will involve fitting ground and air heat pumps to transition council housing away from gas boilers.

It is currently estimated that 50% of Oxford’s council houses meet or exceed the Band C rating already, and further surveys are being carried out to ascertain where to target the £50m investment.

This is in accordance with the Council’s Local Plan, which commits OCC to providing sustainable, efficient and enduring homes for the future.

OCC said: “At the recent Zero Carbon Oxford Summit, Oxford City Council along with other leading stakeholders across the city agreed an ambition to help achieve a zero carbon city by 2040. Retrofitting existing homes is key to realising that.”

A report in 2019 found that 81% of Oxford’s total emissions come from buildings, and that residential buildings are the largest contributor to emissions, at 29% of the city’s total. The same report found that the University of Oxford is the organisation with the largest single contribution to the city’s carbon footprint, totalling 8% of emissions.

Within this 29% figure for residential buildings, socially rented housing made up 21% of emissions, with privately-rented and owned homes comprising the remaining 79%.

The investment follows the Oxford Citizen’s Assembly on Climate Change which took place last year; the members, who were reflective of the demographic make-up of the City, expressed surprise at the extent to which buildings were by far Oxford’s largest emitters. Further, they resolved that the building sector should adopt more sustainable standards, including retrofitting homes and using more sustainable sources for energy.

Councillor Tom Hayes, deputy leader and cabinet member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford, said: “Oxford can’t deal with our carbon problem until we deal with our buildings emissions problem, and the city council will play a leading role. Despite the impacts of the pandemic on our council’s finances, we will be making huge investments in our 7,800 council homes.”

He added: “We want to work with tenants to make their homes more energy efficient, reduce emissions, and save them money. By showing leadership, we want private landlords and homeowners to join with us in making retrofitting investments in their own homes.”

Meanwhile, Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet Member for Affordable Housing commented: “We will lead the way in retrofitting our council housing stock to create better environments for people – and we will work with our tenants every step of the way. The measures being implemented will see tenants benefitting from lower energy bills.”

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Max Spokes

Max (he/him) was formerly Environment News Editor and Climate Columnist at The Blue. He is in his final year studying History and Politics at Balliol.