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Insulation is free for everyone in Kirklees

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 15 June 2009 at 11:37 am

You don’t read much that’s complementary about our elected representatives at the moment but at last week’s Ashden Awards I met a councillor for whom I have enormous admiration.

As leader of Kirklees Council, Councillor Kath Pinnock persuaded her fellow councillors to invest £9m in Kirklees Warm Zone, a programme to install cavity wall and loft insulation free of charge for every home in the borough. Seventy per cent of households have taken it up so far, saving them each about £200 per year in fuel bills.

I love the boldness of the idea, and the long term thinking behind it. Instead of the sticking plaster of the winter fuel allowance, we have an investment for the future. It not only means that people are warmer, but it tackles fuel poverty, means people have more money to spend, and that they emit significantly less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

And the benefits don’t end there. Nearly 100 full time, and 60 part-time, jobs have been created as a result of the scheme. As assessors visit each house to check suitability for insulation, they can also refer people for Warm Front grants for a new boiler or to install central heating, or for advice on benefits, debt or health.

By adopting a blanket, free for everyone approach the council reduces admin and avoids the stigma of means testing. By doing the installations street by street, it reduces the cost by a third.

Of course, there are some people who are suspicious about it because it’s free, and who turn it down as a result. But they are in the minority – and a quote from one resident illustrates their loss: “I now turn my boiler down as the house keeps the heat in. The whole place is now very warm. When you get work done for free you expect it to be of a poor standard, but Kirklees Warm Zone is extremely good.”

As with everything, there is an opportunity cost, and in Kirklees it comes as more pot holes on the roads. To Kath Pinnock that wasn’t a difficult choice. Reduced fuel poverty, warmer homes, less damp, and the health improvements that are associated with that are much more important. (If you prefer your benefits to be measured in financial terms the council estimates that once the scheme is fniished it will have spent £13m, and delivered a total benefit worth £42 – 52m.)

It’s not finished yet though, and once they’ve done the basic loft and cavity wall insulation Kirklees Warm Zone plans to move on to solid wall insulation. Thanks to the basic information collected in initial assessments, it will not need to send assessors round again.

Find out more about the scheme, and watch a video here.


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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2 comments - read them below or add one

Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 28 June 2009 at 9:48 am

Whoops, I apologise if I have trampled on party political sensibilities. Re-reading my article I recognise that it does read as a bit of a one woman campaign, which wasn't the intention, or what Councillor Pinnock said. My applause is for every councillor, of whatever political persuasion, who supported this initiative. If only more councils around the country were equally bold.

That said, when I spoke to Councillor Pinnock at the reception, I was struck by her genuine passion and enthusiasm for the scheme.

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Andrew Cooper

Andrew CooperComment left on: 27 June 2009 at 4:40 pm

If Councillor Pinnock told you the above it wasn't quite true. It is true to say that the Liberal Democrats initiated the 'Warm Zone' of which there are several around the country. The bit that isn't anything to do with the Liberal Democrats was the £10 million that the Council invested to make the insulation free. This was actually a Green Party amendment to the then ruling minority Conservative administration. Without this money households would have been asked to pay hundreds for insulation measures. I have plenty of evidence to back this up. It is just a measure of the success of the free insulation scheme that all the other Parties on the Council have sought to take credit for it over the years. Bit annoying though.

Councillor Andrew Cooper

Kirklees Green Party


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