Retrofit Decisions: Views from Local Authority Staff
Part of the Heritage Counts series. 3.5 minute read
The current picture: limited capacity and growing demand for specialist skills
Due to the scale of the climate crisis and the UK’s commitment to reach net zero, climate change work is becoming increasingly important impacting many sectors.
In the heritage sector, we are seeing a growth in demand for climate change specialist skills within local authorities. They bear a great deal of responsibility for heritage conservation.
According to the 2022 Local Authority Staffing Survey, 66% of respondents selected “advising on adaptation or retrofit of buildings to improve energy efficiency” as one of the specialist skills needed for their roles.
At the same time, local authority historic environment staff are working in the context of shrinking budgets and limited resources. Capacity within local authority historic environment teams has shrunk considerably over the last decade, with a long-term decline between 2006 and 2018 where the number of conservation/archaeological specialists fell by 35% (see Figure 1) (Historic England, 2021).
Heritage Indicators (Annual Local Authority Accounts data collected for Heritage Counts) similarly demonstrates decreases in local authority expenditure on services for the historic environment since 2009/2010. This ranges from -34% (Museums and Galleries), -35% (Heritage), -38% (Archives) to -57% (Development Control) by 2021/22.
Local Authority Historic Environment Team Capacity, 2010 to 2023
Historic building adaptation casework is growing
Staff are seeing more casework involving decisions, advice or pre-application enquiries about retrofit, with 59% of responding local authorities saying that this had increased over the last year, just under a quarter of whom (22%) saying it had "increased a lot".
This trend is likely to continue, with many residents planning to start retrofit projects driven by the desire to reduce energy bills. Just over half of listed building residents surveyed in 2022 (1) said they were likely to do so in the future, with local authorities the top source for residents looking for information on retrofitting (16%). If planned works go ahead, demand for information and guidance will continue to increase.
Confidence about making decisions is mixed
On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is "not at all confident" and 5 is "very confident", a high proportion of respondents (88%) selected 3 or above. However, only 16% said their staff were very confident in making decisions about energy efficient retrofit proposals.
Staff shared their views on how resources could be improved
The top areas were:
- Content – staff would like clear and detailed information on the implementation of specific energy efficiency measures that covers their impacts and offers some direction to support decision making
- Format – staff appreciate case studies that illustrate ‘real world’ practical examples alongside theoretical information
- Dissemination – staff need regularly updated guidance that reflects the fast-paced nature of technological changes in this area
Further insights into specific areas of low confidence could help to identify key areas where additional support and training are needed.
Climate Change and Historic Building Adaptation Historic England Advice Note
Historic England has published a draft advice note covering Climate Change and Historic Building Adaptation. It provides advice to local planning authorities and others involved in the planning process on:
- The need for planning permissions and/or other consents for some of the common changes required to decarbonise and improve the energy efficiency of historic buildings
- Determining proposals to decarbonise and improve the energy efficiency of historic buildings to enable positive climate action
- How local plans and other planning mechanisms can deliver a positive strategy for historic buildings that proactively supports climate action
About this survey
Historic England’s Local Authority Staffing Survey collects statistics on the number of staff employed by local authorities in building conservation and archaeology roles, using questions adapted from the Heritage Labour Market Intelligence Toolkit. The 2023 survey was conducted between April and June 2023 by Essex County Council Place Services and is the fourth in a 5 year series of annual surveys to monitor capacity and capability in local authority heritage teams. A total of 258 organisations responded to the survey.
As part of the 2023 Local Authority Staff Survey commissioned by Historic England, conservation officers working in local authorities shared their views on improving the energy efficiency of historic buildings. The results show a clear need for additional information and guidance to support local authority staff advising and making decisions on retrofit.
Organisations with building conservation officers were also invited to answer additional questions on the volume of casework involving energy efficiency retrofit, confidence in decision making and views on current advice and guidance. This section of the survey received 189 responses.
- In 2022, Historic England commissioned a survey of owners and occupiers of listed buildings. This survey included a representative sample of residents of listed buildings and a control group of people living in conservation areas. The survey was undertaken by an independent research agency, BMG Research.
- Historic England and BMG Research (2022). Listed Building and Conservation Area Owner/Occupier Survey, 2022. Available at: 2022 Listed Building and Conservation Area Owner/Occupier Survey (historicengland.org.uk) (Accessed 26.10.23)