George Adams, SPIE's Engineering & Energy Director, puts forward the case for repurposing buildings.

Build & Connect news

Posted by SPIE UK

The climate emergency will not disappear because of COVID-19; it remains the biggest challenge for humanity for the future.

With the Built Environment causing about 45% of Green House Gas Emissions, it is not an option to ignore the importance of de-carbonising the existing building stock. However, with the impact of COVID 19, the property market is experiencing significant challenges with buildings closed or partially utilised.

The new laws laid in Parliament on 21 July 2020 are intended to deliver much-needed new homes and revitalise town centres across England, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced. The new rules, which will come into effect by September, will mean full planning applications will not be required to demolish and rebuild unused buildings as homes, commercial and retail; repurposing can be faster to help revive town centres and local commercial outlets. The key is to speed up the adaption to what consumers need to develop their businesses.

The idea that new build is economically beneficial compared to reprocessing or refurbishing a building is often seen from a simple first-cost basis, not a whole life basis, which should include the benefits of reducing embedded carbon.

The repurposing of commercial and industrial facilities could well become a key feature of economic recovery

We traditionally only build 1 to 2 per cent of new buildings each year and so to radically reduce the impact of existing buildings on the environment, will require a huge shift towards repurposing, refurbishing and re-focusing the use and operations of these buildings. This will no doubt lead to a drive to improve the resilience of buildings to the impacts of viruses and poor air quality. However, the repurposing of commercial and industrial facilities could well become a key feature of economic recovery by making more products in our own back yard.

Existing buildings form a significant part of the real estate infrastructure with opportunities for change and reuse; this is particularly the case in cities where often the economic contribution is higher per capita.

The scene is set for radical changes in the way we treat our existing building stock. This will require skilled resources, improved economic analysis, deeper considerations of efficiency and resilience. Furthermore, there is great potential for buildings and urban locations to become centres for generating renewable and low carbon energy, including carbon extraction solutions. As a result, this would create greater social cohesion towards sustainable and resilient cities and towns to meet the critical challenge of the net-zero target.

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