Ken Livingstone is determined to cut London's carbon emissions 20% by 2010 and Allan Jones is the man to help him do it.
In the second in a series on energy issues, Mark Leftly met the GLA climate change tsar who's piling pressure on developers.
The Greater London Authority scoured the globe for the right person to head its Climate Change Agency. Candidates from Australia and Canada were impressive but, in the end, London mayor Ken Livingstone and his deputy Nicky Gavron chose a Woking council official who was well into his 50s.
Allan Jones was appointed chief development officer of the agency in October 2004. Before then he had used a mixture of high idealism and low cunning to transform Woking. By the time he left, the Surrey town of 100,000 people had 10% of all the UK's photovoltaics, the county's first network of combined heat and power plants, its streetlights ran on wind power, its parking ticket machines ran on solar power and carbon dioxide emissions from public buildings had been cut 77%.
In Jones, Livingstone and Gavron saw a man who could help the GLA achieve its aim of cutting 20% from the capital's emissions figure for 1990 by 2010 and 60% by 2050. Gavron says: "In the end, the Woking approach was the most appropriate - Allan had worked in the UK and this role required experience of the UK's regulatory regime."
Jones is entering an important phase of the agency's development. Just two months ago, the agency selected French energy company EDF as its joint-venture partner to develop sustainable energy grids in London. Dubbed the Esco, the joint venture will look to develop sustainable energy supplies, rather than using the more traditional fuel sources on the National Grid.
This contract and the introduction of a rule that all new developments in London derive at least 10% of their energy from renewable sources is piling pressure on the city's construction industry.
Jones speaks bluntly and is often critical of the private sector. For example, he believes the agency is well on its way to achieving the 2010 carbon emissions target. He thinks there has been a 17% reduction, but cannot be certain: "It's terribly difficult to get information out of the private sector."
As 70% of London's CO2 emissions are generated by buildings, much of the reduction will result from targeting construction. One of the most criticised policies to help achieve this has been the aforementioned 10% rule. Many developers have baulked at this, thinking it would mean covering their schemes in wind turbines. Roger Madelin, chief executive of Argent, is reported to have calculated that the company's £2bn, 25 ha King's Cross redevelopment would need 525 of them.
To Jones, who argues that there are many ways to achieve the target, this is nonsense. He also rubbishes the view that sustainable technologies will vastly increase construction costs. "The problem is," he groans, "people look at just one technology: wind turbines. There are other technologies, like geothermal heat pumps. And I've heard Argent say energy improvements represent 2% of the value of the project - a relatively minor amount. It makes you begin to question what developers are worrying about."
I’ve heard Argent say energy improvements represent 2% of the value of the project – a minor amount. It makes you question what developers are worrying about
As it turned out, the King's Cross scheme, which has planning permission subject to the agreement of section 106 requirements, only has 15 wind turbines. As Jones said, other techniques and technologies have been found, including the use of biofuels (fuels derived from crops, such as bioethanol) and the installation of solar panels.
Madelin praises the GLA for helping Argent find ways to hit the 10% target, but he does not confirm Jones' claim that this has added a mere 2% to the cost. "It's difficult to tell," he says, before reaching the inevitable conclusion: "It's going to be lots of money."
Jones says much of the fuss over the extra cost will die down by the end of the decade. Livingstone, who has the power to veto planning permission, has only approved big schemes that meet the 10% renewable target for the past year. Before that, most schemes that he allowed would not have hit this target. As developers do not have to start building for five years after receiving planning permission, the fear is that many schemes that were given the nod in 2004 will reach completion at the same time as those approved in 2005 and beyond.
Without the need to meet Livingstone's target, these developers will create cheaper schemes and therefore will be able to offer more competitively priced accommodation.
Jones says: "What developers want is a level playing field. Once everybody's schemes have to hit the target, it will be a like-for-like comparison. Some developers might sit on the scheme for the five-year timeframe, but it is not a situation that is going to last that long."
But existing schemes will not be so energy-efficient. Jones believes landlords will feel inclined to meet his targets because of a European Union directive that is expected to be introduced in the UK later this year. It will lead to buildings being graded A-G for their energy performance. "If you have a potential occupier that considers itself a grade A occupier, it's going to want a grade A building," he says. "Run-of-the-mill developers will be left behind."
Much of the agency's work has so far been on energy. Next, London's developers can expect pressure to meet tougher water use targets. Jones is looking to set up an equivalent of the energy services company that he has just formed with EDF. He says only 2% of London's potable water is consumed: "Water running off roofs is not captured and we lose half of all water pumped from reservoirs. If necessary, we will form a water services company."
It seems certain that Jones will do this, as he seems to always get his way. In 1990, he submitted a report on global warming to Woking council. He breaks into a rare smile: "Councillors hadn't even heard of the term." Now that council is the template for solving climate change problems in one of the world's biggest cities.
Portrait by Julian Anderson