CULS Magazine 2023

Page 40


A Sustainable Slowdown? Or Abundant Opportunities?


hilst hindsight is a wonderful thing, I try to look forward as much as possible. That said, it’s useful to see what trends were being predicted in the CULS magazine last year and whether our collective crystal-ball-gazing played out. And what will the impact be over the following year?

across the country. The political reaction to the expansion of ULEZ that took effect in August was both fascinating and hugely frustrating as a Londoner who has lived with record levels of nitrate and particulate matter pollution for nearly 20 years. Will one of the main political parties pin their green colours to the mast? This seems an obvious opportunity for Labour but Starmer’s response to Khan on ULEZ was wet at best. As someone who has a very clear view on the dangers to society of climate breakdown, I’m afraid the environment isn’t high enough on Joe Publics’ radars when the nation is still grappling with a cost-of-living crisis.

This time last year we were waiting to learn the outcome of the decision regarding the M&S planning appeal on Oxford Street and here we are, 11 months on, with a decision to finally chew over. And it didn’t disappoint unless you have recently submitted a planning application for a new build development in central London and haven’t considered your refurbishment options. The costs linked to carrying out whole life carbon analysis on refurb options have certainly increased but are now essential to get a scheme in central London through planning. The required change in mindset – where ‘retrofit first’ is everyone’s mantra – is vital if we are to reverse the decadent developer behaviour seen since World War II. The associated changes in global weather patterns, loss of biodiversity and impacts on human health and habitats that are evident off the back of this are considerable.

What gives me hope on the environmental challenge is the amount of material innovation that we are seeing. Recent discussions with the CEO at Paebbl regarding their involvement in the UK market show that the answer to many of our problems will come from the oil and gas industry. Many of her team come from Shell, Exxon Mobil and Chevron and are all now working on carbon capture and storage using cement products. The oil and gas industry has, without doubt, the engineering, problem-solving skills and economic clout to effect fundamental structural change across how we manufacture and use materials. If only they had the conscience to invest the quantum of resources needed for a Society in the grips of climate breakdown.

Hannah Durden Sustainable Development Director

The lack of resources within Local Planning Authorities to analyse this increased level of detail prior to planning applications being submitted will, without doubt, cause issues. The programme risk of refurbishing buildings to meet ESG criteria has become significant and, in some cases, unviable. But is this because we are too short-termist? What if we look at a 50+ year time horizon? Or do we need new funding products to fuel the boom needed to create a more sustainable built environment? The availability of ‘green’ finance at improved rates is prolific but equally very ‘tick-box’ and many working in the industry find the policies too light-touch in terms of the product being delivered. But is anyone surprised given the legislative void that we are operating in?! As the industry continues to deal with the perfect storm of high inflation and interest rates, wrestling with these additional reporting, design and planning requirements as well as longer timescales to get on site will only add to any form of slow down across the UK if, indeed, that is what we are already experiencing. I don’t see any impetus coming from political parties to change the status quo as they all start to focus on the next general election. With a likely date in the autumn of 2024 we will see perpetual inertia as they squabble over votes



One of the other areas of our industry where I see huge opportunity across biodiversity net gain and ecological strategies. This is in advance of the end of a two year transition period in November 2023 since the Environment Act became legislation in 2021. This puts a mandatory obligation on developers to deliver a minimum of 10% biodiversity uplift on new developments in England. Whilst this will put a further pressure on consultant costs the benefits to biodiversity in the UK – where, according to the recent State of Nature report, 1 in 6 native species face extinction – and to those people and businesses occupying the new developments being built, will be significant even if not necessarily measurable in pounds and pence. As touched upon last year, the biodiversity and climate crises are inextricably linked and there will be a wider benefit globally if biodiversity is put at the forefront of decision-making. Economies such as Costa-Rica are superb examples and Michelle Sanchez recently focussed on this in her article for Dezeen (July 2023 edition). She reiterated that ‘sustainability as a concept goes beyond environmental impact [referring to our intense focus on carbon emissions]. Sustainability was defined back in 1987 by the UN as the balance of the environmental, economic and social impact of any project – this is the Sustainability Triple Bottom Line. We are forgetting that sustainability engages with a far greater range of issues than carbon emissions alone.’

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