Outside the Council House, which is currently undergoing a fundamental rebuild, is an information notice which explains why the council is taking this approach. You can read more about it on the Council’s website.
The Council is keen to point out that this project is good not just financially but environmentally too. On the website it says that environmentally the refurbished building will have an ‘A’ rated energy performance and be rated Breeam ‘Excellent’.
It takes a lot of energy to manufacture the bricks and cement, steel and tiles to construct a building, so renovating existing buildings, providing they are structurally sound, is often an environmentally friendly thing to do. It also means there is less material to dispose of as waste.
It can still be expensive to upgrade an old building – and the tax system doesn’t help. The materials needed for a new building are rated at 0% VAT, but one pays 20% VAT on repairs. And one of the biggest challenges can be to make an old building suitable to modern uses and expectations.
Building users expect a lot more than they used to; good temperature control, lots of electrical sockets, IT connections, toilets and often showers, and level access and lifts for wheelchair users. And for good environmental credentials you may also want solar panels (for hot water and electricity) and rain water collection for flushing loos or watering plants.
The turbine on the river (see earlier postings) will meet most of Council House’s electricity needs but not every building has a river and a weir just next to it(!) However, as the Council has advocated renovation as the right decision for so many reasons for itself, one would hope it would support this vision of renovation and energy self-sufficiency or other property owners too.
Sadly though, elsewhere the Council is presenting obstacles for other property owners who want to make their buildings ready for a future of higher energy prices and more unpredictable weather. I have been made aware of two such examples in barely a week.
The first is a plan to install 10kW of photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof of an old malthouse. The building is unpretentious, brickbuilt with a pitched slate roof.
The wider environment includes an electricity substation (with security fence), a surface car park and recently constructed inner ring road, as well as similar-aged brick-built factory and terraced houses. It is not a Conservation Area and the building is not listed, although it is on the local list of historic buildings as it still contains some features of the original malthouse. However, as the council’s conservation officer pointed out, the roof is not original and therefore not of historic interest.
Regardless of this, the planners have decided that PVs are inappropriate and have refused permission as they say they would detract from the local area. Surprisingly, should the owner wish to, he could probably demolish the whole building without needing planning approval and if this were a domestic property, the PV panels would not have required planning approval.
The second example is someone whose house is built without cavity walls who has decided that the best way to lower her heating bills is to clad the outside of the house. Again this is not a listed property, and not one in a Conservation Area, but again she is being told that she will need to pay for approval to do the work.
Both the City Council and government want people to cut their energy use and invest in renewables. One way to help will be to cut the red tape which discourages all but the most dedicated of investors!