Retrofitting London’s homes – is the capital meeting its sustainability targets?

Friday 25 January 2013

London faces a daunting task if it is to meet its target to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2025 and 80% by 2050. But the challenge could be given a vital boost by improving education for the public on the technologies, funding streams and savings involved.

That was one of the main thrusts of the ‘Retrofitting London’s Homes’ half-day conference held at NLA yesterday. Deputy Mayor for Housing, Land and Property at the GLA Richard Blakeway kicked off by detailing the ‘tough challenges and targets’ surrounding retrofitting London’s stock. ‘The reality is that 80% of our homes today will exist in 2025, when carbon emissions should be reduced by 60% compared with 1990 levels’ he said. ‘We must ensure we have a strong policy framework as the first stepping stone.’

Blakeway said that new funding streams such as the Green Deal – which goes live on Monday - were ‘absolutely critical’, but one of the most important moves will be to make access to funding for the consumer as simple as possible, he added, with barriers to retrofitting – even small matters such as parking – removed to help people operate efficiently. Finally, with such a large number of social landlords in the capital, there is a ‘fantastic opportunity to scale up very quickly’, and for savings on average of £152/ household to be brought on stream.

PRP Environmental partner Andrew Mellor said it was important for people to behave differently in their homes and remains convinced that smart systems will be needed. It is not in people’s nature to change energy use, he added, and research had revealed an amazing amount of influence wielded by people’s pets, with owners leaving TVs, lighting and heating on for their dogs in some cases. Westminster’s Low Carbon Zone Project Manager Tim Starley-Grainger made the point that it was better to talk to people about fuel poverty than carbon but that the main problem in the retrofit area remains the funding gap. 

One developer doing interesting work on retrofit is Grosvenor. Executive director for the firm’s London Estate Giles Clarke showed a pilot study of a retrofit applied to a listed building in Belgravia; a ‘not exceptional house’ which was formerly a hotel and is being changed back to three apartments. It has scored a 45% reduction in CO2 and is being monitored alongside an almost identical building nearby.  

The wider energy targets are onerous but can be achieved with a fundamental change in public awareness, said Clarke, and Grosvenor is hoping to aid this through a retrofitting toolkit and working with customers to help them understand the energy issues in their homes. ‘We have to halve consumption, then halve it again, then do a bit more’, he said. ‘We can’t just tinker’. 

Clarke added that institutions such as English Heritage must remove its ‘inconsistency’ on issues, but EH’s historic environment planning adviser Claire Craig said the agency is embracing the topic, working hard on ‘carbon solutions in the historic environment’. 

The conference also heard from ECD Architects associate director Mark Elton, who showed how good public consultation lay at the heart of projects his firm is involved with to drastically improve tower blocks on the Edwards Estate in west London and Portsmouth. United House business leader Chris Cheshire took the audience through an innovative WHISCERS technique which uses laser measurements and additions to internal walls to drastically and quickly improve the energy performance of homes, particularly in the social housing sector. And there were presentations from Buro Happold sustainability engineer Dr Mark Dowson, presenting details of a super-insulated scheme using ‘silica aerogel’ on the Thamesmead Estate in south east London and Paul Davis and Partners associate architect Marion Baeli, who showed similar energy savings on schemes in Brent.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

The NLA conference 'Retrofitting London’s homes – is the capital meeting its sustainability targets?' was sponsored by Grosvenor

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