Saturday, December 31, 2011

Incorporating Energy Efficiency Measures into Urban Renewal Schemes Helps the Environment

The redevelopment of land in areas of moderate to high density urban land use is called Urban renewal and it has had both its successes and failures thanks to the major impact it has had on many urban landscapes and the residents affected.

Among the historic examples that could be argued to have been failures were the demolition of rows of city slums, often terraced housing, and their replacement with blocks of high rise apartment buildings, perhaps most famously in Newcastle on Tyne (The Scottswood Road) and in parts of London. Many were criticised for their rapid descent into shabbiness as well as for their alleged adverse effect on community cohesion.

Urban renewal has, however, been seen by its proponents as a mechanism for stimulating and reforming local economies. Gradually urban renewal evolved into a policy based less on destruction and more on renovation and investment, and has become an integral part of the policy of most local authorities and often combined with small and big business incentives such as the creation of enterprise zones in areas of high unemployment.

The London Docklands is perhaps one of the best known examples of ambitious urban renewal of recent times and it took nearly 20 years for the process to be completed.

The first ten years were spent on moving architectural plans beyond the drawing board and another decade for redevelopment to take full effect. The process was complicated because a large number of landowners were involved and it was one scheme that was helped by its designation in 1982 as an enterprise zone, where businesses were exempt from property taxes and were given other incentives, including simplified planning processes and capital allowances. This made investing in the Docklands considerably more attractive proposition and helped to create a property boom in the area.

The massive development programme during the 1980s and 1990s saw a huge area of the Docklands converted into a mixture of residential, commercial and light industrial space. The Canary Wharf project that constructed Britain's tallest building and established a second major financial centre in London has become a landmark of the area.

Nowadays urban renewal projects increasingly incorporate efforts to improve energy efficiency, especially since the introduction of legislation in the UK that requires all commercial buildings to display energy performance certificates.

Plainly, particularly since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008 precipitated by the collapse of Lehman Bros, the value of property, particularly commercial property has dropped dramatically. However, even this gives businesses and domestic consumers even greater incentives to become more energy efficient to control their costs as energy prices climb relentlessly upwards.

New building is not a viable solution to achieving zero carbon buildings not least because It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of the buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built and it would be unrealistic to expect that they could all be replaced to achieve this goal.

It was estimated two years ago that UK cities represent 44% of the country's total emissions and almost 30% of this comes from the English core cities and London. Energy consumption (electricity and gas) is often the major contributor to nondomestic buildings' carbon emissions. Although it varies by sectors, heating and air conditioning, followed by lighting, are responsible for the highest proportions of energy use.

Architects are increasingly knowledgeable and adept at finding energy saving solutions and incorporating them into their designs for renovations, renewal and development projects.

Retrofitting a building to improve its energy efficiency is more difficult than new-build, according to the Carbon Trust, because of the constraints of a building's existing structure.

However, a refurbishment plan is often a good time to introduce energy saving measures as the famous London hotel the Savoy did in 2009.

The refit was designed with a saving of up 40 per cent of its energy consumption, resulting in a reduction in its carbon emissions of 3,000 tonnes a year. The main change is that the hotel now has its own combined heat and power (CHP) plant, allowing it to generate its own electricity and heat. CHP is best-suited to buildings with a high demand for heat. It was also planned to include heat exchange technology with the aim of allowing all the heat expelled by its refrigerators and cookers to help heat the water supply was also installed.

Incorporating energy efficiency measures in to urban renewal schemes can help the environment and reduce energy costs. By Robert O’Hara, of Robert O’Hara Architects Limited.

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