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Carbon Zero Edinburgh by 2030: Practical or Idealistic?

Posted by Edward Iffla on October 14, 2020
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At Evergreen Property, we want to promote sustainable living and development as part of our model. We are pleased to be based in the country that’s ahead of the UK with a net zero deadline of 2045. We are even more pleased to belong to a city that has even bolder ambitions. The City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) has been focused on faster rates of carbon reduction for some time, and published its ‘short window improvement plan’ late last year, setting out its ambitions to make Edinburgh net zero carbon by 2030. The world we live in today seems to be faced with new world-ending challenges with frightening regularity. The realisation that we are running out of time to tackle climate change effectively is becoming more and more understood. 

Steven Tucker, a partner at planning and design consultancy Barton Willmore, has written a detailed article on exactly this topic, which I am going to paraphrase here. The full article can be read here. https://www.scottishconstructionnow.com/article/stephen-tucker-making-idealism-practical-and-achievable-can-we-reach-a-net-zero-carbon-edinburgh-by-2030

A Planning and Design Perspective

This acknowledgement of the importance of the next decade in the fight against the climate emergency is both admirable and hugely courageous. As we slowly emerge from COVID-19 there is much to do, to reach this target, and CEC, and Scotland as a whole, is going to have to overcome obstacles in development, planning and design which are both stubborn and systemic as well as some newly realised political barriers.  

To be successful, sustainability targets need to inspire, not prescribe. They need to be ambitious. But they also need to incentivise the private sector to deliver them.

The National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) ‘Call for Ideas’ is taking us in an innovation-led direction. Our government and cities like Edinburgh need to champion and embrace private development to facilitate this. We should be rewarding landowners and developers who want to go green with more housing opportunities, not less. Especially where they can be designed and delivered to aid the countries march to zero carbon. 

In Edinburgh, as in many towns and cities, the focus is on retrofit of homes and commercial buildings – removing gas boilers, subsidising double glazing and insulation installation and encouraging solar panels and heat pumps, while driving space efficiency, alongside the maximisation of natural light & ventilation and intelligent lighting.

The main challenges occur when looking at standards for future new development. Passivhaus standards are currently the only widely understood method for securing standout sustainability, and yet achieving them frequently challenges commercial viability for developers and crucially affordability for buyers. End products themselves are also often criticised for favouring function over form. We can and need to do better. 

Part of this deep-rooted viability problem is that the UK is a long way behind Europe and Scandinavia when it comes to the market mindset. The European renting model allows developers (especially within the build to rent sector) to prioritise energy efficiency and longevity, because the increased cost will still be recouped over the rental lifespan of the building. In the UK, the huge demand for home ownership, and lack of supply, has fuelled a reactive market focused on producing as many houses for sale as possible, prioritising short build times and low cost over build quality or serious carbon efficiency.

Having a political vision for the future housing market and/or for zero carbon is not in itself enough. Scotland is part of a broader UK market (like it or not). Our housing market, while possibly unfair and inaccessible, also forms the bedrock of saving and pensions for large parts of the population. Developers exist to make a respectable profit. They will absolutely pay a premium for high energy efficiency but only where they are incentivised.

Achieving zero-carbon

The reality is that there are no black or white solutions when it comes to achieving Zero Carbon. If we are to hit these goals, we need the public and private sector to work together. 

What are our environmental commitments at Evergreen Property?   

Here at Evergreen Property we pride ourselves on our environmental contribution. For every new landlord we work with we donate £50 to the Rainforest Trust UK which in turn protects 500 acres of tropical rainforest. Tropical rainforests are the biggest and most effective carbon sinks in the world and are our biggest tool in the battle against climate change. Restoring and protecting the world’s natural ecosystems is something we should all be trying to contribute to. 

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