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Listed buildings and net-zero ‘should be closer aligned’ states report

Words: Laura Edgar
The Old Royal Baths / Credit, iLongLoveKing, Shutterstock_482604025

Planning policy should be ‘reformulated’ in the run-up to COP26 to ensure that listed buildings are more energy efficient, suggests a report.

It says the potential savings from doing this “could be vast”.

There are about 500,000 buildings in England that are protected by statutory listings, with more located in conservation areas; they could be stately homes, public buildings, terraced streets or blocks of social housing or unlisted historic dwellings in conservation areas.

Heritage & Carbon, commissioned by property group Grosvenor Britain & Ireland, estimates that carrying out fabric improvements to listed buildings in England and Wales could deliver operational carbon savings that are equivalent to 5 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions associated with all buildings in 2019.

Grosvenor said inconsistent policy, fragmented guidance and a skills gap has left a “substantial” percentage of UK building stock “vulnerable to the impacts of climate change”. This prevents them from contributing to the government”s net-zero aims.

Tor Burrows, executive director, sustainability and innovation, Grosvenor Britain & Ireland and a COP26 built environment ambassador, commented: “The UK is a world leader in heritage protection. Time and again, we have proved that our nation’s historic assets can be sensitively adapted to changing times and new uses. But ambiguous policy, inadequate funding and a major skills gap are stalling our ability to help them adapt once more – this time against the climate emergency.

“In 2021, we have a unique chance to protect our heritage and the environment. Nobody intended COP26 to arrive alongside planning reform, but it creates an amazing impetus. The potential prize is equivalent to a 5 per cent reduction in UK emissions associated with buildings and a substantial contribution to the sixth carbon budget. We just need the bravery to act and the place to start is getting policy right.”

Grosvenor maintains that before COP26 the government should publicly commit to align heritage protection with environmental sustainability “much more closely” in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It should include policies for carbon reduction in relation to designated heritage assets, apart from scheduled ancient monuments.

Other measures suggested in the report include funding for non-profit organisations to retrofit historic buildings and equalisation of VAT on alterations and repairs with those for new-build.

Doing this would be a “powerful stimulus” to the green economy and help to protect the heritage that gives people a sense of civic pride and identity in Britain.

The report was produced alongside the National Trust, Historic England, Peabody, Southern Housing and The Crown Estate, and written with Donald Insall Associates.

Ingrid Samuel, historic environment director at the National Trust, said: “The National Trust believes sustainability and heritage protection should go hand in hand. Our built heritage must play a real role in tackling climate change. We shouldn’t be building new carbon-hungry houses, but instead get the right ingredients in place to retrofit them sensitively and in a cost-effective way. Redirecting planning policy to support this goal is clearly part of the answer, but it can’t be done in isolation.

“It is vital that the government aligns wider policy with appropriate skills and technology, and a real sympathy and understanding for historic fabric to ensure these special places are here for future generations.”

Heritage & Carbon can be found on the Grosvenor website (pdf).

Image credit | iLongLoveKing, Shutterstock