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Empowering communities

Future is local front coverEnabling communities to lead local renewal projects with a neighbourhood-scale approach is the most cost-effective way to ensure our villages, towns and cities are fit for the future and create the conditions for people to thrive. Through empowering community groups to come together to tackle issues of local priority, and to work in partnership with local authorities and businesses, multiple benefits can be delivered. Upgrades to our physical infrastructure can tackle climate change, deliver reliable and efficient transport networks, improve health and well being, secure a healthy natural environment, improve long-term housing supply, maximise employment opportunities, and make our communities safer and more cohesive.

The Future is Local advocates an integrated, area-based approach to retrofitting buildings and upgrading community infrastructue.

» Download The Future is Local: Empowering communities to improve their neighbourhoods


Building on previous SDC work on the built environment (Stock Take, Review of the Sustainable Communities Plan), The Future is Local began as the Delivering Neighbourhood Retrofit project in Autumn 2009. Its aim was to explore how retrofitting our existing neighborhoods can reduce emissions and wider resource use, attract investment, and improve quality of place and life for residents.

 Our homes, offices and other physical structures of the built environment are responsible for approximately 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. But retrofitting buildings and upgrading community infrastructure will deliver more than environmental benefits. By undertaking this work in an integrated way at the neighbourhood level, community engagement and social conditions will be improved, and local and national economies boosted through cost efficiencies and increased employment opportunities. Improving our local places and making them more robust for the future, for environmental, social and economic benefits, is sustainable development in action.

The report argues that we need to focus on more than energy efficiency if we are to gain the full economic, environmental and social benefits of efforts to improve neighbourhoods.

Other organisations involved in this project?

  • The project was funded jointly by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), and the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes (EEPH), and supported by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), all of whom were represented on a steering group of key experts, sponsors and SDC Commissioners, and met regularly throughout the project
  • An additional three task groups of over 50 experts from a wide range of backgrounds also met throughout (see report page 20 for details)
  • The report’s 30 case studies include contributions from community groups, local authorities and businesses
  • Buro Happold undertook additional research into existing neighbourhood infrastructure and an independent researcher undertook a review of financing vehicles.

Work outline

The scope of the project

Finding and presenting evidence to show the most productive and efficient way to improve infrastructure in order to reduce carbon emissions, improve natural resource efficiency, improve quality of place, save public funds and lever private finance.

How this project was/will be undertaken?

Our work on this project involved:

  • a literature review & desk-based research
  • commissioning additional research into existing neighbourhood infrastructure (see Buro Happold’s report, below) and financing vehicles
  • analysis of 100+ case studies, short-listed to a final selection of 30 for inclusion in the report
  • establishing three task groups consisting of over 50 experts from a wide range of backgrounds
  • regular meetings with a steering group of key experts, sponsors and SDC Commissioners.

Report Summary

Managing upgrade works on a neighbourhood basis can encourage greater participation and cut costs by 20-30%.

The UK’s 21 million homes produce over a quarter of our carbon emissions. The cost of retrofitting them to meet the 80 per cent carbon reductions required by law by 2050 is estimated at a minimum of £210 billion. Substandard housing is already estimated to cost the NHS £2.5 billion a year. Evidence shows that lack of access to green spaces and safe walking and cycling routes contribute to high levels of obesity and mental ill health, which, combined, currently cost the NHS £13 billion a year. Congestion in England, if left unchecked, is likely to cost £22 billion by 2025.

Who should read this?

Central government, local authorities, community groups, private investors and social entrepreneurs, housing authorities, building & construction companies.

Key findings

Empowering communities to prioritise, finance and deliver necessary local works in an integrated way – from improving home energy efficiency to upgrading green spaces and installing renewable energy sources – in partnership with local authorities, business and infrastructure owners will:

  • Save money by taking advantage of economies of scale
  • Attract higher levels of participation compared with programmes to tackle individual issues
  • Help communities access better finance solutions and generate income to be re-invested into other community projects
  • Reduce disruption by tackling works together
  • Strengthen communities by involving them in decisions about their area.


Our recommendations to Government include:

  • Supporting an integrated area-based approach to upgrading local infrastructure as a cost effective way of achieving maximum sustainable outcomes in an area (Action: CLG, DECC, Defra, the Department for Transport, the Department of Health, Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT), Infrastructure UK, HCA)
  • Formalising the local authorities’ role as local leader on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures (Action: CLG, DECC)
  • Co-ordinating cross-government support for neighbourhood partnerships (Action: CLG, with others)
  • Devolving funding to neighbourhood partnerships to enable them to influence decisions on how public sector money is spent in their area (Action: CLG, HMT)
  • Minimising development risk through provision of clear policy support for neighbourhood retrofit (Action: DECC, CLG, HCA, HMT)
  • Establishing a new Green Investment Bank to direct finance to a wide range of low carbon infrastructure projects at a variety of scales, including neighbourhood (Action: HMT, Infrastructure UK, DECC).

Stewart Davies, Business Commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission, said:

  • “People want to live in places that feel safe, homes that are affordable to heat and neighbourhoods that are resilient to extreme weather. And we know that access to green space, good transport links and safe pedestrian and cycle routes can improve our health and well-being and even our employment prospects.
  • “An integrated, neighbourhood-wide approach to upgrading our towns and cities allows communities to work together to agree local priorities, helping them save money, access smarter finance and even reap profits from community-owned infrastructure which can be ploughed back into the neighbourhood for everyone’s benefit.
  • “Communities all over the UK are already finding out that working together is the best way to make things happen, and enjoying the social, financial and practical benefits along the way. In our current economic climate, supporting a neighbourhood partnership approach is the best way for Government to ensure that our villages, towns and cities are in good shape to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Previous work by SDC:

 » Stock Take: Delivering improvements in existing housing

» I Will if You Will

» Low Carbon Wales

» Prosperity without Growth?