Building a greener future by harnessing the past

COP26 has focussed us all on how each of us can and must contribute to carbon reduction. Donald Insall Associates – the UK’s leading conservation architects – know that heritage protection and sustainability go hand in hand, and that historic buildings can play a valuable role in helping the UK reach its carbon reduction goals and tackling the climate crisis.

The practice have published their research in a report highlighting the benefits of capturing the embodied carbon in historic buildings and are calling on the UK Government to address the policy changes, skills and funding needed to make it possible.

Without these changes, a substantial percentage of the UK’s building stock will be left vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and will be prevented from contributing to the Government’s net zero carbon aims. Additional detrimental effects include fuel poverty and negative public health and wellbeing outcomes.

Heritage and Building Performance

According to recent figures from the Royal Institute of British Architects, nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the built environment. This suggests that this is also where part of the solution lies.

Donald Insall Associates addressed the ways in which our built heritage can be at the heart of a sustainable future in their Heritage and Carbon report, published earlier this year for property group Grosvenor.

Key messaging in the Report centres around a better understanding of the benefits of working with the exceptional embodied carbon credentials that historic buildings possess. It points out that over a fifth of the UK’s domestic building stock predates 1919, meaning some 500,000 listed buildings (in England alone) and hundreds of thousands situated in conservation areas need to be made easier to upgrade into energy-efficient accommodation.

A Call to Action

Donald Insall Associates believe that the Government must address five core issues:

  • Policy: Heritage protection and environmental sustainability need to be better aligned within the National Planning Policy Framework.
  • Guidance: Energy Performance Certification must be adjusted so that decisionmakers properly understand how this relates to historic buildings.
  • Upskilling: Training must be provided in order to close the skills gap in relation to improving older buildings.
  • Capacity in Local Government: A centralised resource for sharing expertise and case studies could benefit decisionmakers and practitioners across the UK.
  • Costs: VAT on alterations and repairs must be equalised with that for new build in order to encourage a move away from the wasteful demolish/rebuild cycle, and grants provided to assist not-for-profit organisations in retrofitting older buildings.

All of this would act as a powerful stimulus to the green economy, as well as helping to protect a crucial part of our common heritage, which gives so many people a sense of civic pride.