With the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, committing £3bn of funding in his summer statement to make existing homes, schools and hospitals more energy efficient, Managing Partner at JTP, Marcus Adams, reflects on what this means for the built environment sector.
An architect and urban designer, with a resolute commitment to making a positive impact in communities which are impacted by our projects, Marcus has worked across the private and public sectors to lead the design and delivery of large scale regeneration, strategic placemaking projects and new mixed-use neighbourhoods.
If the UK is to meet its energy reduction targets, then it is critical that we ensure our homes are more energy efficient. So, it is extremely reassuring that the UK government has pledged £3bn of grants to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes and public sector buildings. However, although this is a very necessary and welcome start, there is still a lot more that can be done.
It's well known that the UK has the oldest housing stock of any EU member state and this means they require more energy than homes in other countries and residents therefore spend a greater proportion of income on our energy bills. The poor quality of the UK’s housing stock has long been a focus for many environmental groups and accounts for nearly a fifth of total carbon dioxide emissions last year. Last month, the government’s chief advisers on climate change urged the backing of a national effort to improve insulation and also make sure properties did not overheat in summer as an immediate first step in any green recovery.
Pennington Street Warehouse: repurposing and retrofitting this old warehouse has helped JTP to significantly reduce our carbon impact.
As our seasons become more extreme, with hotter summers and colder winters, this has a significant implication for our homes. Homes will increasingly need to be passive using natural processes for heating and cooling without the use of energy-consuming electrical devices.
British homes are often built with windows that are designed to keep heat in. Whilst this is a good thing in winter it means that they can get excruciatingly hot in summer. Green roofs are a positive intervention that act as passive cooling mechanisms, providing insulation in hot and humid seasons and significantly reducing urban heat island effects, cooling the temperature in urban areas. At the same time, they mitigate the impact of storms and heavy downpours by reducing the amount of storm water runoff. During the summer period a green roof can retain between 70-80 percent of rainfall runoff. Shutters or reflective blinds are also an effective way of addressing passive cooling, as are adjustable horizontal louvers and glazed façades which minimise solar gains.
St Clements: JTP helped to deliver the redevelopment of St Clements, a derelict former workhouse infirmary, to establish London’s first ever Community Land Trust.
There is a vital need for retrofitting existing housing and building stock. A wide range of actions can be taken to improve the energy efficiency of homes, many of which can be made at a low cost. Walls can be insulated and windows replaced with frames which keep heat in more efficiently. Newer appliances can be purchased, many of which are already more efficient as a result of strengthened EU regulations.
As architects, we have a leading role in designing, co-ordinating and delivering a sustainable built environment. But I really feel that if we are to eradicate fuel poverty and cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade the government must detail a long-term multiyear funding programme on energy efficiency and a plan to switch homes from gas sources to cleaner, greener ones. More investment needs to be given to incentivise the production and consumption renewable energy such as solar power, wind energy, hydroelectricity, biomass and geothermal. There’s no question about it, the government must set about creating long-term consumer demand for green home upgrades, bringing forward a range of attractive financing options and incentives such as variable stamp duty to make greener homes cheaper to buy.
RadioStation Rugby: transforming a historically important site into a sustainable new urban extension for Rugby through the delivery of new, energy efficient homes.
Additionally, we need to look at how we build new homes, ensuring they have superior energy efficiency whilst at the same time addressing the immediate need for more investment in public transport, walking, cycling and nature recovery.
I am encouraged to see the creation of green jobs through the £40m ‘green jobs challenge fund’ directed at environmental charities and local authorities as well as £100m of investment towards researching and developing direct air capture – an emerging technology that removes carbon dioxide from the air. But ultimately, whilst the current government’s commitments are a timely step in the right direction, it remains to be said that the best way forward is for a joined up, cross-party, non-political national energy strategy to help the UK both offset rising energy costs and reduce carbon.