For a local authority, the prospect of ‘climate-proofing’ its existing building stock, as well as creating new more eco-friendly developments is a daunting prospect. Yet, the longer we delay, the worse it will become, argues Nick Woolley.
Local authorities are under no illusion as to the urgency with which they must embrace the climate change agenda. With their vast stock of housing and municipal buildings, their contribution to the UK’s (now ‘minimum’) target of a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is pivotal. When one considers that a full 50% of all emissions are caused through the construction and use of buildings, LA’s responsibility in this area is starker still.
There is no shortage of information and guidance. Indeed, a raft of helpful reports and initiatives from organisations including the Carbon Trust and the Energy Saving Trust, have recently been launched to help local authorities get to grips with this complex issue.
Why then is ‘climate-proofing’ buildings, proving such a challenge? How can local authorities actually get started? Are any beacon authorities providing an inspirational lead to others? Fortunately, the answer is yes.
For example, one far-sighted council in Lincolnshire, South Holland DC, is supporting an experiment to ‘green’ an existing and affordable three bed council house, stripping out the old boiler and double glazing and giving it a full green makeover so that it can will become almost complete autonomous in both energy and water supplies. SEArch Architects has promoted this initiative and has set up a semi-autonomous sub-committee in Groundwork Lincolnshire to undertake the work.
Most Effective Results.
This carefully costed and researched project will provide vital data as to which improvements, at what cost, will provide the most effective results. It will enable the council – and others – to understand more clearly how to extract best value when planning climate-related initiatives to building stock. Of course, this is but one scheme. We need many more. All councils and housing associations should be carrying out similar projects and sharing the results.
Another positive development is the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Silver Jubilee Cup to the London Borough of Merton for its work to recognise the modern spatial nature of planning and of planners’ role in tackling climate change. The ‘Merton rule’ requires developers in the borough to ensure at least 10% of all energy production for new development comes from renewable energy equipment on site. This rule is now being more widely adopted by other local authorities and, if this continues to be the case, it is a welcome step.
The biggest challenge to local authorities is the perceived cost of implementing trial schemes and/or adopting measures such as the Merton Rule. I’d argue that, in fact, we need to understand better the cost of not taking these steps. Certainly the ‘costs’ of climate change set out in the Stern Report are already conservative, particularly as they were based the UK taking immediate action to counter the problem, which we haven’t done. As a result, things are tough and will get tougher, the longer we delay.
My advice may sound drastic but we must get real about climate change and the sheer economic cost of remaining reliant on a fossil fuel economy when energy costs have increased by 700% over the last ten years.
When we talk of ‘affordable homes’, what do we mean? Affordable for whom? If we really want to build homes that are affordable for people to live in, then we should act now and ensure that all new homes are virtually, if not completely, autonomous. I know of four award winning affordable homes which have total outgoings, before council tax, of around £3/week. That is truly affordable! So councils:
Local authorities have a unique and vital responsibility to embrace the challenge of climate change and, in so doing, ensure that we have a building stock which is viable, affordable and environmentally friendly throughout the 21st century and beyond.
Public Sector and Local Government Building – September 2007
PSLG | September 2007September 5th, 2007