Large Connaught Square 01

Adapting Historic Homes for Energy Efficiency

16 February 2024 By Falmouth Fairfax

​For the many households living in characterful Edwardian, Victorian, Georgian – and older – homes across the UK, introducing modern energy efficiency measures may well be considered a tricky business.

Around 15 per cent of our 30 million homes pre-date 1919 and, whether statutorily listed, or in a conservation area, there are perceived barriers to upgrading and adapting these historic buildings. 

At the start of 2024, the Government published a new review setting out a number of key concerns seen as limiting factors for the adoption of retrofit and energy efficiency measures in older homes.

The review aims to identify barriers that may be removed to achieve the Government’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. This ambition has already manifested itself in the recent amendment to the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) which introduced the new paragraph 164.

In determining planning applications, the new NPPF paragraph requires that the decision maker, ordinarily the local planning authority (LPA), must give ‘significant weight’ to energy efficiency measures (including those made to designated heritage assets) and this should be applied in conjunction with the ‘great weight’ attributed to the conservation of heritage assets later on in the NPPF. The new paragraph now directs decision makers to show that the need for improved energy efficiency and low carbon heating has been factored into the planning balance. It is a welcome move in the right direction.

The new document reviewing the barriers to energy efficiency in historic buildings commits to consulting on how planning might be reformed to make retrofit easier and more consistent. This would include the potential expansion of permitted development rights, new National Development Management Policies focusing specifically on improvements to historic buildings, and the expansion of Local Listed Building Consent Orders and National Listed Building Consent Orders to cover more.

Listed Building Consent Orders give consent for certain specified works that would previously have required an individual application to the LPA. Listed Building Consent Orders have the potential for making energy efficiency improvements less onerous for homeowners by potentially giving permission to replace single glazing with double glazing under certain conditions, or, by allowing PV panels to be installed in certain inconspicuous locations. These measures have occasionally been seen at local level such as those implemented by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea but have not been widely adopted. 

However, many LPAs are under-resourced so do not have the capacity to produce Local LBCOs. The enhancement of National LBCOs would likely reduce the burden on LPAs and make it easier for owners and occupiers to improve the energy efficiency of listed buildings. However, the enhancement of National LBCOs may be resisted by LPAs and conservation groups who will fear that a poorly worded order might allow harm to the unique characteristics of local architecture and potentially conflict with existing local planning policy or statutory duties. LPAs may also fear that blanket consents might remove one check on poorly designed interventions.

Another issue highlighted within the document is the need to improve skills of all professionals involved within the historic environment so that appropriate retrofit solutions can be designed. At the same time, minimising the risks of poorly designed retrofit that, beyond the visual impact, can introduce dampness or structural issues. One training option mentioned in the document is the Level 3 Award in Energy Efficiency Measures for Older and Traditional Buildings(a qualification held by specialist advisors in the Savills Heritage & Townscape team).

All in all, the mooted proposals should make the planning process easier to navigate and encourage sensitive retrofitting. A positive step forward, but there’s still a long road ahead.

Read more on the Government's review here.

Blog source: Savills.