ENVIRONMENT

Kensington and Chelsea must lead the way on safer, greener homes

Cllr Kim Taylor-Smith outlines progress with creating the UK’s largest eco-neighbourhood at the Lancaster West estate – where the Grenfell tragedy took place.

If you were offered the chance to retrofit your entire home for free – solar panels, heat pump, new windows, new doors, new insulation – would you say yes?

It might seem like a no brainer but the disruption that comes with retrofitting a home can be huge. If your boiler works and the bills aren't through the roof, perhaps you'd choose to leave it a bit longer. It's hard to know where to start with such a big job.

As social landlords, we can't wait.

Buildings are our biggest carbon emitter and with a challenge to be a carbon neutral council by 2030, the time to protect people, homes and our environment is now.

With colder winters and hotter summers, how to do we make our homes more climate resilient?

This is the question we're answering on the Lancaster West estate, where the Grenfell tower tragedy took place in 2017, and home to around 1,800 residents.

Much of the Notting Dale ward, which includes the estate, was affected by flooding in July 2021 when London had sudden and extreme rainfall in one day.

On the estate, we're retrofitting 794 homes. So far, 52% of tenanted homes have been internally refurbished, meaning state-of-the-art kitchens, bathrooms and heating systems. We've hit a major landmark this summer, appointing contractors to design and build a new heat network, the next step in creating the UK's largest eco-neighbourhood. With current communal boilers at the end of their life, the new heat network will provide renewable energy to homes, a school, a leisure centre and local businesses and council offices by 2025. Our ambition is to extend the network to surrounding neighbourhoods later in the decade.

Clean, green heating and hot water will be produced by heat pumps, with solar panels providing electricity. A price promise will mean customers won't pay more than they would for gas until 2030.

I am not a renewable energy expert, but it is fair to say the process is complicated. We're the first local authority to attempt this as part of a deep retrofit project. Elsewhere this sort of heating system is being installed in new build situations. which is why we have set up a company with a board which helps make the decisions. People who know the industry inside out sit on the board. It's residents who know their neighbourhood best so they are represented too – their involvement at the highest level is non-negotiable.  

Following the Grenfell tragedy, the bereaved and survivors have set us the task to become the best council for our communities. It is a tall order and it means different things to different people. One thing we know for certain though is that it means listening and involving the people we serve in the decisions that affect them and their homes.

In the midst of a major retrofit we can't change that the work is intrusive, but we can give people choice. People on the estate have been able to choose their own windows, choose how they have the work done, choose whether to stay or move to another home on the same estate while works take place. It slows things down, no doubt, but it's essential in making sure people have the influence they deserve to have over the place they call home.

Retrofitting homes is about protecting all our residents for tomorrow. Homes across London, especially basement properties, are susceptible to flooding as our weather patterns become more extreme. The work we do to the homes we own and manage will offer protection for our residents but cutting the emissions from buildings across the borough – across London – is what really makes the difference.

After six years supporting the communities of Grenfell and working to improve our housing I am now moving to a new challenge supporting businesses and culture across the borough.

After everything I have learned I know that when it comes to safer, greener homes, it's up to us as social landlords to lead the way.

Cllr Kim Taylor-Smith is deputy leader at Kensington and Chelsea LBC and held the lead member role for Housing, Grenfell and Social Investment from 2017 to 2023.

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