We’ve heard a lot in the past week or so about people who follow the letter of the rules but not their spirit. Rather too much, in fact
But when it comes to ensuring that new buildings are sustainable, could the industry be guilty of the same behaviour? When we look back in five years, will we be proud of our work? Or will we recognise that too many of our products complied with all the relevant regulations but had no real impact on energy reduction? We might even conclude that Prince Charles was right about all this eco-bling.
Take biomass boilers. There’s a stampede to fit them. They’re seen as carbon neutral and, compared with solar panels for example, a cheap and quick way of meeting carbon reduction targets. Yet where is all the fuel for them to come from? And how many of these systems will even be switched on? One case mentioned the other day was of a development that fitted the boiler without a flue – they had no intention of using it. Given that conventional boilers are fitted as a back-up, who’d ever know?
And that’s the thing – there are umpteen new regs, plans and strategies appearing all the time but are these the best way of reducing carbon emissions? And who is enforcing them? This week we report on an edict being drawn up in Brussels to force all buildings to create their own energy on site by 2019. The government rushed out the Code for Sustainable Homes three years ago, and it has taken the industry three years to prove that it is more efficient to generate power using off-site solutions, so this new plan would seem a crazy idea. It would also drive the industry back in the direction of green bling.
There are steps being taken to enforce tougher Building Regulations. In the revised Part L, it is proposed that designers have to show building control officers detailed calculations about energy efficiency. But do building control departments really have the skills and resources to check them? The government’s proposals, which are about to be released for consultation, will put even more pressure on building control, which faces the prospect of checking that homeowners upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes when undertaking building work.
The problem is that we are making it up as we go along. Fundamentally, there is still too little monitoring of a building’s energy performance after it is finished, which is the only thing that would give the industry a sense of what works. And until that is changed, the loopholes will remain to be exploited.
There is some good news to celebrate this week. People are moving back into Sir George Gilbert Scott’s St Pancras Chambers, that fantastic gothic revival landmark in King’s Cross, after 74 years of steady neglect. These days everyone loves the building, but it hasn’t always been so. The completion of the first phase of apartments also marks the next chapter in the regeneration of King’s Cross, which got off to a great start with the revitalisation of St Pancras station as the new Eurostar terminal. Although there could be a few minor question marks over the practicalities of loft living, the developer, architect and builder have made a great job of bringing this landmark to life. They have created dramatic spaces in the former servants’ rooms at the top of the building, and soon the grand rooms lower down will be resurrected to capture once again the age of romance and style. We can’t wait to see what this looks like when the hotel part of the scheme opens in 2011.
Denise Chevin, editor.