Client: Assura, a FTSE 250‐listed real estate investment trust that develops, invests in and manages a portfolio of primary care medical centres across the UK.
Brief: To assess and provide clear data to inform work to improve the EPC rating of 590 GP centres to band B. Property manager Assura aims to improve the health of its building portfolio by helping GPs save on their energy bills.
The company’s social impact strategy, SixbySix, pledges that six million people will have benefited from improvements to and through its buildings by 2026, and to help achieve this goal, Assura tasked Murton & Co to gather EPC data on almost 300 of its community health buildings to inform its journey – with the goal of lowering their energy demands and reducing their carbon footprint.
Assura set itself a target of achieving an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band B rating in four years across all 590 of its buildings, which include dementia‐friendly designed modern GP spaces, community well‐being areas and specialist treatment and diagnostics centres. Located as far apart as Dundee and Cornwall, the portfolio varies widely in size and age, ranging from a 250sq metre surgery in a converted Victorian terraced house to a 4,000sq metre purpose‐built centre with multiple practices.
Murton & Co needed to effectively conduct surveys of about 280 properties which did not have an EPC and collate data from a further 310 buildings which already had a certificate, feeding into a capital investment strategy to ensure all the buildings were on target. It soon discovered that some of them had had varying standards of work done over the years, while information about this and resulting environmental data could be contradictory, misleading, or incomplete.
“This was where Murton & Co came in – to fill in the gaps,”
explains Assura’s project manager Martin Dawson.
“The surveys were to ascertain the EPC rating of properties without EPCs and then advise on implementation measures to achieve Bs for those properties that weren’t quite hitting the mark.”
Work began in October 2020 with the Murton & Co team needing to carry out a roll‐out of surveys in a relatively short timescale.
“The challenge was for us to do 50 surveys a month for six months during a pandemic and with Christmas and New Year in the middle and to ensure consistency with the assessments. It was a tall order,”
says director Jonny Murton.
Murton & Co employed a new building surveyor who it trained up as a commercial energy assessor, and also collaborated with ten other energy assessors to carry out work around the country.
“We wanted to use local surveyors in local areas to save on as much travel as possible during the pandemic,”
The energy firm managed the process, co‐ordinating surveyors and liaising with centre managers – often during lockdown periods. This created accessibility challenges which sometimes meant working evenings and weekends. Other challenges were caused by the centres’ incomplete records, as up‐to‐date floor plans weren’t available for all properties. Despite this, Murton & Co was able to source a number of missing plans from online planning records or managed to draft the plans themselves while on site.
A typical assessment involved mapping the layout of the property and assessing the makeup of the building fabric to understand its thermal values along with the heating and cooling provisions to create an Energy Performance score.
The firm worked in partnership with Glasgow‐based arbnco, using its software to input energy performance data on the 590 properties, running simulations to identify measures which could be taken to make carbon savings and the cost of that work for each property and the portfolio as a whole. For those harder to treat buildings with an EPC of D or E, Murton did a deeper dive as well as manual simulations. Assura was then provided with energy efficiency improvements and retrofit strategies for each site.
Stephen Preece, director of technical sales at Arbnco, says this process saved a huge amount of time when compiling reports.
“The findings are uploaded to the platform and you have a full set of improvement measures in 15 minutes – that could take at least half a day if done manually,”
“You might have made eight or ten recommendations and the software can run many combinations to provide the best possible result to achieve that B rating, with costing for every measure.”
“The partnership with Murton was really successful and we’ll be working with them on follow-up projects for the next five years.”
One of the main issues identified was poor lighting, and simply swapping fluorescent tubes for LED was an instant win. In some cases, it advised changing old gas boilers to efficient, modern versions, while other suggestions included installing double glazing and replacing old air conditioning systems. Any carbon savings which would be made from the energy efficiency improvement measures were also quantified.
“Aside from the energy reducing benefits these improvements will make, they will positively impact the comfort of the building for its users, from helping regulate the temperature to improving lighting levels. Both of which will enhance patient experience,”
Such measures inevitably lead to staff and visitors feeling more comfortable in their buildings and GPs needing to pay less in energy costs, meaning that they are more likely to remain as tenants. The changes will support Assura as a partner to the NHS on its journey to become the world’s first net zero carbon healthcare system.
Since Murton’s survey work, Assura has already made improvements to 30 of its buildings and by May 2022, 31% of the portfolio was at EPC band B compared with 27% at the start of April 2021. Assura aims to increase this to 50% by the end of March 2023. Murton & Co continues to work closely with Assura as it progresses against its SixbySix strategy, offering advice about the energy improvements involved whenever Assura looks to acquire new buildings.
“Murton & Co remains central to providing us with continued consultancy on energy and sustainability,”
says Martin, who adds that his positive experience with the firm has been a great learning experience.
“They are passionate about what they do and have been highly professional and supportive. We really appreciate dealing with a small but focused business as Jonny and Caroline are always at the end of the phone and help in any way they can.”
Health centre: Turnpike House, Worcester
Key facts: 4,000sq metres with a patient list of 30,000
Previous EPC score: C
Murton & Co recommendations: Install LED lighting throughout
New EPC score: B
Estimated practice bill saving: £21,073 (74%)