A government minister has met some of the first people to benefit from a multi-million-pound scheme to improve the energy efficiency of more than 1,000 County Durham homes.
Lord Callanan, Minister for Climate Change and Corporate Responsibility, visited homes in Chilton to see how work to install free low carbon external wall insulation and renewable heating systems is progressing.
The work is part of a wider Durham County Council project, which will see external wall insulation improvements carried out at 500 homes in Chilton, New Kyo, South Moor, Coundon Grange and Dean Bank.
A further 500 new renewable heating systems and solar panels will be installed in Wheatley Hill, Dawdon, Stanley, Weardale and rural parts of north Durham.
It is part of the local authority’s commitment to enhancing the vibrancy of County Durham communities through its Towns and Villages programme, along with its ambition to meet the targets set within its Climate Emergency Action Response Plan.
The project has been made possible thanks to grants totalling £10 million from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Local Authority Delivery Plan and North East Energy Hub.
Durham County Council has also committed £850,000 from its Towns and Villages Fund and a further £750,000 has been received from the Warm Homes Fund and Chilton Community Energy Company.
North East construction company Tolent has been awarded the contract for the first 500 homes and is making good progress.
So far, solar panels have been installed on 25 homes, external wall insulation fitted to 20 homes and air source heat pumps have been added to 65 homes.
Some homes will also benefit from new double-glazed windows as works continue over coming months. In Chilton, 138 homes are set to benefit in West Chilton Terrace and Dean Bridge Row.
As well as saving homeowners an average of £250 a year on their energy bills, the measures will reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent and contribute to the county’s quest to become carbon neutral by 2050.
Cllr Amanda Hopgood, leader of Durham County Council, and Cllr Richard Bell, deputy leader and cabinet member for finance, accompanied the minister on his visit.
Cllr Hopgood said: “We are delighted to welcome Lord Callanan to County Durham to see how the funding from BEIS is being used to make a real difference to our communities and the local environment.
“These improvements will not only save residents money but will reduce carbon emissions, which is something we take very seriously.
“The project also reflects our commitment to place-based regeneration through our Towns and Villages programme and housing strategy. Good quality, energy efficient homes play a crucial role in eliminating fuel poverty and will help to ensure the vibrancy of our communities both now and in the future.”
Lord Callanan said: “It was a pleasure to meet so many of the dedicated workers transforming hundreds of homes across County Durham to help residents save money on their energy bills and cut emissions.
“With more than £10m of government investment in County Durham, we are ensuring households across the area feel the long-term benefits of greener, cheaper, energy efficient homes, as well as the creation of permanent green jobs across the North-East.”
Doreen McWaters, 78, and her husband Laurie have lived in their home in Dean Bridge Row for 50 years.
The great-grandmother of six told Lord Callanan about the benefits she hoped the work would bring.
“When I first heard about the project it seemed too good to be true and I took some convincing that it was actually a genuine offer,” said Doreen, 78.
“Once I was reassured that it was genuine, I was all for it. These are quite big houses and take some heating during the winter. Hopefully the insulation will keep us warmer and reduce our bills.”
Brenda Woods, 70, who moved into her home in West Chilton Terrace four years ago, also thought the project was too good to be true at first.
The grandmother of four said: “You get very little for free these days, especially when you own your own home.
“However, the team at the council told me all about the project and I was really impressed.
“The external wall insulation is all in place now and it looks great. It should keep the house warmer, save me money and help the environment. I couldn’t be happier.”
To find out more about the Towns and Villages strategy, visit www.durham.gov.uk/townsandvillages.
For more information about the council’s work to tackle climate change, visit www.durham.gov.uk/climatechange.