Climate Change and Sustainable Development
Climate Change and Sustainable Development
I am delighted to have been asked by the Society to write a regular section on sustainability with regard to new building applications in the borough.
“Sustainable buildings” are structures and processes that are environmentally responsible and resource efficient throughout a building’s life cycle - from planning to design, construction, operation, maintenance and demolition. As I progress with my role in supporting the Society, I will prepare a policy position paper that summarises relevant national and local policies, and climate declarations by elected local officials, with relevance to housing and sustainability. The aim of this document will be to help enhance the Society’s response to planning applications and to ensure schemes put forward for development comply with sustainability and climate related regulations. The document will also suggest best practice alternatives where possible. This will facilitate the Society’s role in highlighting positive measures being taken, and to also hold to account developers and planners by ensuring required sustainability measures are implemented.
The impact of Climate Change is being felt today – this is as a result of an increase of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions caused by human activities. In 2019 the UK became the first G7 nation to legislate for net zero carbon by 2050. For Surrey, that means reducing GHG emissions against 2019 levels by 46% by 2025 and 85% by 2035. (See Surrey’s Climate Change Strategy, Surrey County Council (2020)).
Within Surrey, domestic CO2 emissions amount to 28% of the total county-wide emissions (2019) and these relate to heating (space and water) and electrical consumption - not embodied emissions of building structures themselves. New buildings therefore need to be built with sustainability as the key driver in order to meet these carbon reduction targets. The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) identified a number of measures in its “UK Housing: Fit for the Future” report ((https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/ukhousing-fit-for-the-future/) which states that “new homes should be built to be low carbon, energy and water efficient and climate resilient”. The CCC also states that the cost of building to such specifications are “not prohibitive” and that “getting the right design from the onset is far cheaper than retrofitting later”.
Epsom and Ewell Borough Council is currently finalising the Local Plan. This provides a key opportunity for the Society to comment and review the plan ensuring that it puts forward best practice measures for building standards to meet sustainability objectives. An objective laid out in its Climate Action Plan is to “identify potential locations and developers to build the first carbon neutral homes and adopt a PassivHaus or similar standard.” (https://www.epsomewell.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Climate%20Change%20Action%20Plan%20Final.pdf).
PassivHaus (or other BRE standards such as BREEAM) are holistic in their scope and include criteria that address a wide range of climate change issues (including energy, embodied carbon, water use, flooding and mitigation of the effects of overheating). These standards put emphasis on planning that encourages site specific design to make the most of local conditions such as building orientation for solar heat gain, thermal mass etc. Faced with substantial new housing targets, this will most likely be the main challenge facing Epsom and Ewell: to ensure that developments are not generic, and that sufficient care (and time) is taken at planning development and design stage.
We should all aspire to a home that is affordable, comfortable and suited to our needs, healthy, easy to heat and cool, cheap to run and maintain and resilient to a changing climate. As Tim Oliver, Leader of Surrey County Council states: “The scale of our ambitions must reflect the scale of the challenge. All of us must take action to do our part.”
I certainly hope that as members you will assist the Society in raising our voice to ensure we do just that.
About the Author
Aurélie Paoli qualified as a Chartered Civil Engineer with an MEng in Civil Engineering and an MSc in Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Development. She worked for engineering consultancies for ten years specializing in water resources, ports and river restoration. She has been working and living in Epsom since 2005. “I look forward to supporting the committee in reviewing planning applications to ensure that current and future residents of Epsom and Ewell get the best possible housing that meets the needs of our town and future generations. Housing that not only is architecturally sound but that is critically designed to be climate resilient and with minimal impact on the environment. My hope in working with the Society would be to demonstrate to planners, developers and borough residents that the large planned house building targets for Epsom and Ewell can (and need to) be an opportunity to improve our housing stock. It can be a fabulous chance to construct genuinely sustainable buildings which are comfortable and affordable to live in. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if Epsom was renowned not only for its Derby but also for its sustainable and quality housing stock!”