Paula Wilson, Operational Manager, with some final thoughts on Recycle Week.
Last week we lent our support to national Recycle Week, an initiative to drive home the message of use and reuse.
It’s a message that the government should heed when it comes to the building sector. It has plans to speed up planning applications, with less effective local objection.
While we welcome the government’s plans to invest £5 billion into the construction sector, we worry about the negative impact it might have.
Simply, building poorly or inappropriately-designed houses in small towns and villages is not a long-term answer to the housing shortage.
It is instead a path towards compromising the quality of our built environment. Local beauty is an amenity that is valuable, and we’ve said so here.
In other words, while we recognise that planning regulations should be simplified, we don’t agree there should be a presumption to build anything anywhere.
Yet, if Recycle Week has reminded us of anything, it’s that there is always a different kind of solution. A solution that will still create jobs and generate new homes.
That solution is, of course, to repurpose the built environment rather than knocking it down and starting again.
At present, there are good financial reasons why house builders prefer the much cheaper option of building on greenfield sites.
But with a little bit of tax restructuring, regulations should instead be made to tip the balance towards making better use of existing buildings.
Old buildings can, and should, be repurposed whenever possible. We can see many examples of old mills or warehouses being converted into flats.
It’s not just about romantically preserving the past, but looking at the past as an asset that, wherever possible, can be remade for new uses.
It’s now a campaign that’s being run by Architects’ Journal, and supported by no less than 14 Stirling Prize Winners.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has made estimates of lifecycle carbon emitted from a building development.
The RICS estimates that to be some 35% for a typical office development. In other words, nearly a third before the building is even opened. For a residential building, it’s an even starker figure – 51%.
It means that it could be many years before a new building repays the carbon debt of its construction.
In response, Architects’ Journal suggests that the government should change VAT rules. This would make it less attractive to demolish and start again.
In the rush to do anything to kickstart the economy, creating a circular economy has to be a good strategy. After all, The UK has set a target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050.
That bold objective is incompatible with a parallel strategy of building new homes at the expense of repurposing the past.
Also, many suitable existing buildings are in urban areas, and refurbishing them as new homes would bring new vibrancy to communities.
If we’re serious about preserving the past and achieving a low carbon economy, recycling old buildings is a good place to start.
Picture: Ebbark House in London, a project on which we’ve been involved.