Property experts urge industry to push fight against climate change

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A group of experts have called on the property industry to step up the fight against climate change by making sustainability a key priority in the UK’s planning system

The proposals set out include intertwining sustainable design principles with planning requirements and an annual greenhouse gas target for commercial buildings in order to drive down the industry’s carbon emissions.

As an industry, UK property is currently responsible for 40% of Britain’s carbon emissions, according to the UK Green Building Council, making it one of the largest sole contributors to the nation’s carbon footprint. Despite the UK Government becoming the first to legislate for a net-zero target by 2050, the property industry is yet to make substantial progress in driving down emissions.

Analysis from Bidwells, who helped deliver the UK’s largest non-residential PassivHaus building at The University of Leicester in 2015, has shown that all properties in England rated D-G on their energy performance certificates had a potential energy bill of £21.3bn a year – and this could be brought down to £15.2bn if all those properties were brought up to at least a C standard, saving £6bn on household energy bills.

Energy Performance Certificates were introduced by the government in 2007 to show the efficiency of buildings: A is the highest, G the lowest. However they are only required when homes are traded – so the government only has a snapshot of domestic energy efficiency.

In 2018, around 1.3 million homes were traded, of which 45.3% were rated A-C, and 54.7% D-G. The average energy bill for a grade A property works out at £820 a year and is £3,128 for a grade G asset.

To turn this around, property experts are calling for PassivHaus principles to be enshrined in planning for all new build developments across the Oxford and Cambridge Arc.

What is Passivhaus?

PassivHaus is a rigorous approach to sustainable design that originated in Germany but has been widely adopted across the UK, with the local councils in Norwich, Exeter and York embedding the design standards into their development requirements. The recent Stirling Prize-winning Goldsmith Street development in Norwich achieved PassivHaus status, providing 105 homes that cost around £150 a year to heat.

In addition to more sustainable planning system requirements for new developments, property industry leaders have also called for a greenhouse gas per floor area target for commercial buildings. Such a target would be locally determined and enforced by the council to ensure it meets the needs of the surrounding community.

Property experts believe that by creating a greenhouse gas per floor area target and tying it to the building’s insurance premium, the long-term operation of the development will become more important than the value uplift. As a result, commercial buildings will be viewed as operational assets that must perform in-line with the greenhouse gas targets to remain attractive and viable investments over an extended period of time.

These proposals are just two of the recommendations put forward in the ‘Radical Regeneration Manifesto’ produced by property consultants Bidwells, global architects Perkins and Will, and policy advisory business Blackstock Consulting.

Asif Din, sustainability director at Perkins and Will, said: “In 2019, we should be embedding sustainability at the heart of any development policy. Climate change is here and now, which means the days of greenwashing within our industry must end.

“We need to see beyond the net-zero barrier and thread it through everything we design, deliver and operate, which needs to be reflected in the planning system. To do this, we need to garner a greater understanding of the operational and lifecycle emissions of buildings.

“We need to work together as an industry to create buildings that are fit for purpose over their whole lifespan, to incentivise long-term investments, and to design adaptable buildings to face the challenges that the climate crisis poses.”

Eleanor Jukes, senior investment manager at Legal & General, said: “The impacts of climate change on the built environment make partnership and collaboration essential for successful and sustainable regeneration.

“It’s crucial that the development process becomes greener, but to make serious headway in curbing the sector’s emissions we need to take a holistic approach that links transport, clean energy and digital infrastructure back into the built environment.

“Our vision is to create a sustainable ecosystem that underpins the urban centres of the future and connects systems, people and places.”

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