Rather than knocking down existing buildings, experts are urging ministers to encourage developers to explore refurbishments, as making steel, concrete and bricks for new buildings generate vast carbon emissions.
Business minister, Lord Callanan, told delegates at a Property Week conference that the government would be looking at this issue in its forthcoming heat and building strategy.
National Federation of Builders housing and planning policy head, Rico Wojtulewicz, said: “If we can reuse buildings, we should, and it will help improve our retrofitting knowledge too.”
Chairman of the government’s advisory climate change committee, Lord Deben, told the BBC the government had been slow to accept this. He said: “We need to think differently. It’s not acceptable to pull buildings down like this. We have to learn to make do and mend.”
Planning law change should happen
Lord Deben said there needed to be a planning law to stop giving permission for demolitions.
Experts have said firms planning large scale developments should calculate the total impact on the climate before starting work – something that is already mandatory in several countries.
Engineering firm Arup has calculated about half of the whole-life emissions of a building could come from the carbon emitted during construction and demolition.
UK Green Building Council chief executive, Julie Hirigoyen, told the BBC: “We really must come to grips with the issue of embodied carbon in buildings – we’ll never hit our climate targets unless we do.”
A spokesperson for the government’s business energy and industrial strategy department said: “We are committed to reducing emissions from the construction sector and have set up the construct zero programme to support the industry to achieve their climate commitments.”
He wouldn’t be drawn on the details of the imminent heat and buildings strategy but said it would set out how existing homes can be decarbonised “in a way that is fair, practical and affordable.”
The government said its support of the ‘transforming construction challenge’ was going some way to tackling emissions. The initiative is backing several projects aimed at improving supply chains and software for simultaneous cost and carbon modelling.
Brokers Hank Zarihs Associates said lenders were keen to offer refurbishment finance to builders transforming buildings to make them greener.