Retrofit, regeneration and collaboration: lessons from LB Waltham Forest

On 19 May, Future of London visited LB Waltham Forest and heard first-hand how the council is navigating some of the biggest challenges faced by the housing sector: retrofit and delivering more affordable housing. Here we share a summary of what we found out during our two site visits and what the key lessons for the sector are.

Group of people standing on the pavement outside of a house
A small group of the Future of London network met outside the Eco Show Home on 19 May 2022. Source: FoL.

Retrofit: what to do – and how to get other people to do it

We began our field trip at 47 Greenleaf Rd in Walthamstow, LB Waltham Forest’s flagship whole-house retrofit project, undertaken with Aston Group. Built in 1902, this council-owned Victorian terrace is typical of much of the privately-owned and privately-rented housing in the borough: 70% of LB Waltham Forest’s 107,216 homes pre-date 1944.

In order to demonstrate the benefits of a whole-house retrofit on the energy efficiency of older homes, and encourage local residents and landlords to retrofit their own properties, the house has been adapted and fitted with new technologies to reduce its emissions. Since September 2021 the Eco Show Home has been open to the public, who can book a tour and learn about the retrofit measures. These will continue until July, at which point a family on the council’s waiting list will move in.

Championing a fabric first approach (i), LB Waltham Forest’s Will Vile and Katy Revett, both Housing Strategy and Implementation Officers, and Claudio Rizzi, Head of Mechanical and Electrical, took us through the various retrofit measures that the house has undergone. These included:

  • loft insulation, external wall insulation at the back of the house and internal wall insulation at the front (which enabled the preservation of the red-brick Victorian façade, in line with the planning regulations)
  • underfloor insulation installed with a robotic device called Q-bot
  • installing an air source heat pump, solar panels, LED lighting and smart power sockets.
A group of people listen to a woman talking in the garden
Katy Revett explaining how the air source heat pump works. Source: FoL.

You can read about all the additional interventions in more detail in this retrofit fact sheet (PDF) and white paper (PDF).

The total cost for the renovation was £115,245.43, with £67,000 of this dedicated specifically to retrofit. This has brought the house up from an EPC rating E to an A rating (ii). The next challenge for the council is to make sure that whoever moves in is fully briefed and supported to use all the technology, and also to measure the impact that the retrofit is having on the home’s energy usage and emissions.

Better collaboration within councils: lessons for the sector

Not only is 47 Greenleaf Road an inspiring case study of how to retrofit a Victorian property, but the tours of the Eco Show Home have been great for resident engagement. At the time of our visit there had already been 2000 visitors to the house, mostly from London but also from other parts of the UK and Ireland.

The council are now applying what they’ve learned from retrofitting this house to push their retrofit agenda across the borough, including a larger social housing block and, potentially, a cross-tenure, whole street scheme.

This has highlighted the need for better collaboration between housing and planning teams within local authorities, and the need for upskilling, both in terms of carrying out retrofit projects and assessing retrofit applications. One of our attendees suggested that the planning teams of boroughs with similar housing stock could work together on this, to drive knowledge sharing and help build capacity within the public sector.

Regenerating the Marlowe Rd estate

Next stop was the Marlowe Rd estate in Wood St. Here we met Rob Passmore, Senior Development Manager, and Jacqueline Franklin, Senior Project Manager from LB Waltham Forest, along with Countryside’s Nick Clarke, Associate Development Director, Aadam Ahmed, Project Manager, and Myles Dawson, Senior Construction Manager. LB Waltham Forest has been working in partnership with Countryside to redevelop the estate and having the two teams take us on a tour was an opportunity to see how they have successfully collaborated.

New tower blocks around a basketball court
The multi-use games area and children’s playground at the centre of the estate. Behind it there are private homes (sold by both the council and Countryside), shared ownership homes, social rent homes and Northwood Tower, which was part of the former estate but has been retained. Source: FoL.

The key features of the final scheme will include the following.

  • 448 new homes, 45% of which will be affordable. (Affordable housing here refers to homes for social rent and shared ownership.)
  • 10% adaptable homes across the estate (iii), including a fully accessible four-bedroom home for social rent that the council has just taken handover of, and many other properties adapted for disabled use across all tenures.
  • The housing is tenure-blind, with no distinction in terms of design between the affordable homes and the homes for private sale.
  • There’s a new public plaza and children’s playground, and Wood Street Library has relocated to the ground floor of one of the buildings and now includes a café.
  • All of the Marlowe Rd estate homes get their heating and hot water from the on-site energy centre through a district heat network. This heat network is being extended to other existing blocks to further improve its efficiency and reduce the scheme’s carbon footprint.

The scheme is being constructed in five phases. Phases 1A, 1B and 2A are now complete and work will begin shortly on phases 2B and 3. With high construction costs and a shortage of skilled construction workers, delivering the second phase of this estate regeneration will face new challenges. But both LB Waltham Forest and Countryside are committed to making sure that the full regeneration of the estate is delivered.

A car parked outside a row of new houses
Two of the new social rented family homes on the estate Source: FoL.

A successful partnership: lessons for the sector

Work side by side

While the formal relationship between Countryside and LB Waltham Forest is laid out in the Development Agreement, both Rob and Nick agreed that one of the reasons the two parties have worked well together is because staff have worked side-by-side on site, as well as at strategic levels, to anticipate and resolve challenges as they have arisen. There are also regular directors’ meetings to ensure goals are aligned at a senior level.

This has made it easier to navigate the unexpected problems that have come up, which weren’t anticipated in the initial development agreement. One example of this was following the handover of the energy centre, when the two parties realised there wasn’t a formal process for handing over new sections as they were completed and homes were added to the network. Because they were used to working closely together, they were able to find a solution quickly, and future Development Agreements at other schemes will now include details on staged district heat network handovers.

The collaborative relationship also enabled the council to buy two blocks from Countryside that were originally intended for private sale. This meant they could increase both the amount of affordable housing on site, and the amount of homes that the council owns.

Understand each other’s drivers

The previous estate had been badly designed and was challenging to maintain to a high standard. So the key driver for the council was engaging with the existing residents and working out what was best for them when it came to regenerating the estate. It was a priority for the council that residents would only have to move once, which had an impact on Countryside’s design for the site.

And, as outlined above, LB Waltham Forest made it clear from the outset that they would like to increase the amount of affordable housing where they could. Knowing this allowed both parties to consider how this would be possible throughout the redevelopment and has resulted in more homes being delivered at affordable tenures.

Group of people look at side model for the estate
We visited the marketing suite to look at the site model and hear from Countryside and LB Waltham Forest how their partnership has worked in practice. Source: FoL.

Be flexible

Several attendees had questions about the rising cost of materials and the impact this will have on the delivery of the later phases of the scheme. Aadam Ahmed explained that, as a nationwide developer, Countryside has a large supply chain and good relationships with its suppliers so they will be able to deliver the same quality, to the same specifications, in phases 2B and 3.

However, working collaboratively with the council will enable them to be more flexible and to make quick decisions about materials, to make sure they are compliant with planning and consistent with the earlier phase of the scheme.

For more information on our Affordable housing: Overcoming crisis through collaboration project please contact Anna Odedun.

If you’d like to know more about the Eco Show Home or would like to arrange a private visit, please get in touch with Will Vile. And if you have questions about the estate regeneration at Marlowe Rd, please email Rob Passmore at LB Waltham Forest or Laura Murray at Countryside.

 

(i) A ‘fabric first’ approach to building design involves maximising the performance of the building’s materials (eg insulating the walls), before installing mechanical or electrical systems to reduce emissions (eg a heat pump).

(ii) An EPC rating is a review of a property’s energy efficiency, with A being the best rating.

(iii) Adaptable homes are built to a larger space standard so that they can accommodate a wheelchair and other adaptations could be made in order to make them fully accessible. Fully accessible homes are provided with features such as railings, lowered units in the kitchen, a lift and so on, so that it is immediately able to lived in by a disabled person.