An increasing number of councils are now declaring climate emergencies. Sustainability is not an end goal. We have to be incorporating sustainable practices into everything we do to ensure that we meet the government’s zero carbon targets.

With billions of pounds being ringfenced by the government for public transport funding in the coming years, Charlotte Booth, Associate Director of Sustainability and Wellbeing comments on some of the latest announcements affecting our ongoing journey towards a zero carbon, circular economy.

The Prime Minister has announced a significant amount of funding for the UK’s bus network and cycle links. The government has committed to a five-year, £5bn funding package, increasing frequency and access of bus services, improved routes, simpler fares and new vehicles – including thousands of zero emission buses.

A cycle route improvement programme will see more than 1,000 miles of new cycle routes created across the country. This funding will also ensure that town centres and major road junctions are easier and safer to navigate on bikes.

What does this mean for building design?

This announcement is incredibly encouraging and will have a huge impact on our building designs – considering their place within the context of a cityscape designed for the future. We have already discussed this year how the UK climate targets mean that by 2030 all new buildings must operate at net zero. This means that by 2025, all new buildings will need to be designed to meet these targets. Transport and infrastructure investments are another step in the right direction.

We are already seeing developers moving to this way of thinking, finding ways to introduce more sustainable modes of transport into their schemes. This includes – but is not limited to – improved walking routes, shared bikes schemes, improved access to public transport routes and electric vehicle infrastructure.

We work with our clients throughout the whole development process, with our role starting at concept design. We help our clients define their sustainability, wellbeing and low carbon ambitions in the light of legislative and market opportunities. And, in the light of our changing world and changes in attitudes, we ensure that our strategies are pragmatic, deliverable and fully embedded into schemes from the early stages.

Sustainable placemaking brings a huge number of benefits, allowing developers to achieve reductions in on-site carbon levels. It can also lead to improvements in the health and wellbeing of end-users through community engagement, reduced traffic congestions and improved air quality.

The London Energy Transformation Initiative

The London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) is a network of over 1,000 built environment professionals and was established in 2017 to support the transition of London’s built environment to net zero carbon, providing guidance that can be applied to the rest of the UK.

In October 2018, the government issued its proposed Future Homes Standard for consultation. This month saw the consultations for Building Regulations Part L close. At BE Design, we have been involved in the working group LETI, which has identified key issues with the proposed legislation, including:

  • Fabric performance being likely to get worse, with a home in 2020 having the potential to be less insulated than a home under 2013 Building Regulations. The use of an energy efficient heating system has the ability to mask fabric performance.
  • Carbon and primary energy factors disguise the energy efficiency of a home. The energy consumption of a home can be high but carbon emissions low. This leads to inefficient homes that appear to be performing well.
  • Local authorities will lose the ability to meet their climate emergency zero carbon commitments if they are stripped of their powers to go above and beyond the new Part L.

We have also worked in conjunction with LETI and other organisations on the production of a practical design guide: ‘How new buildings can meet UK climate change targets.’ This guidance document gives practical steps for how we should be designing buildings from now onwards, with the intention that by 2030 these requirements must become standard practice.

What’s next?

With 49 per cent of the annual carbon emissions attributable to buildings in the UK, we must act now to meet the challenge of building net zero developments, ensuring that 100 per cent of all new buildings being designed to net zero within the next five years, so that by 2030 they’ll be net zero in operation.

But to ensure a truly zero carbon society we have to look beyond simply the buildings themselves and make changes to the surrounding infrastructure and transport systems. It’s fantastic to see leadership on this from the government and we hope to see this filtering down through society in order to really drive forward in the name of change.