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Net Zero – The Future of Education Buildings
Like most sectors of the UK’s economy, the Education sector is under pressure to act on climate change and contribute to meeting the Government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Buildings play a fundamental role in the sector and despite the rise of remote learning during the pandemic, the need for school buildings, colleges and campuses remains. A recent study by the World Green Building Council found that – perhaps unsurprisingly – a better, cleaner and greener learning environment leads to better performance from students.[1] Ensuring comfortable, safe working conditions for school staff and students, whilst future proofing education buildings should therefore be a top priority. Decarbonisation of the Existing Stock A key step towards achieving the 2050 target will be transitioning existing school buildings and estates, which often have poor energy ratings, into resilient, energy efficient and carbon-neutral properties. A net zero carbon building is one that is highly energy efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources. In the UK, schools and universities currently represent 36% of total UK public sector building emissions, mainly from heating, cooling and electricity use. It is estimated that Schools alone account for around 2% of UK greenhouse gas emissions[2], roughly the same as all the energy and transport emissions of Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol combined. Decarbonisation of the current building stock is therefore essential. There are many ways to reduce the carbon footprint of education buildings, primarily through reductions in energy demand and usage which can be achieved through measures such as smart LED lighting systems or energy efficient roofing and insultation. Energy efficient measures are becoming increasingly important amid the ongoing gas crisis, with some schools reporting that their energy bills have risen by tens of thousands of pounds this year, putting pressure on already stretched school resources. Taking action on this will not only help towards net-zero emissions targets but will also free up budgets for educational spending. These initial measures can later be combined with other renewable alternatives, such as investing in heat pumps and solar panels, to further support the drive towards net zero. Financial support for such measures is available from the Government for eligible buildings through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (‘PSDS’). This gives central government and local authorities in England a major opportunity to decarbonise public sector non-domestic buildings. Eligible bodies can apply for funding for energy efficient projects and under this scheme, schools across England have received funding to install heating upgrades, solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, or insulation. As part of phase 3a of the PSDS (funding year 2022/23) many London Boroughs have won funding, such as LB Barnet who will received c. £6 million to decarbonise 20 primary schools and 2 secondary schools, alongside other educational institutions, such as the University of Greenwich, who have been awarded c. £1.1 million to installs ASHPs to five buildings at their Avery Hill Campus.[3] Designing Schools for Net Zero Whilst reducing operational energy and providing energy efficient solutions for existing school facilities is one step towards achieving net zero carbon buildings, many education facilities that are in place are no longer fit for purpose, will not contribute to hitting emissions targets, and must be replaced. Schools will need to strive to be net zero from their new build projects in line with Government policy objectives. Earlier this year (April 2022), the Department of Education (‘DfE’) published it’s Sustainability and Climate Change strategy[4], which included the strategic aim of “adapting our education and care buildings and system to prepare for the effects of climate change”. In accordance with the strategy, all new school buildings delivered by the DfE will be net zero in operation. Designing new schools sustainably, focussing on low carbon design, is crucial for futureproofing, given the long lifespan schools and education buildings typically have. The framework from the UK Green Building Council (April 2019) offers guidance for developers, owners and occupiers targeting the development of net zero carbon buildings, setting out key principles to follow and outlining how such a claim should be measured and evidenced. One established set of design criteria, which adopts ultra-low energy building standards, is Passivhaus design, described by the Passivhaus Trust as “a tried & tested solution that gives us a range of proven approaches to deliver net-zero-ready new and existing buildings optimised for a decarbonised grid and augmented for occupant health and wellbeing”. The Trust launched a campaign dedicated to the adoption of the Passivhaus Standard for educational buildings in 2020, which established how new academic buildings should be designed and constructed – alongside much-needed retrofits. Currently there are 15 certified Passivhaus schools in the UK, with plenty in the pipeline. Architype, the UK’s leading Passivhaus, sustainable architect, has designed a number of these, including the Harris Academy in Sutton – the UK’s first Passivhaus secondary school and the largest Passivhaus school in the UK. Lichfields worked with Architype on the Sutton Academy and for the past few years on the Mulberry Academy, London Dock School, a new Passivhaus Secondary School and Sixth Form located on The Highway in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Construction of the Mulberry Academy is underway and on track for the school to open its doors at the start of the new academic year in September 2023. Architype’s innovative design uses Passivhaus technologies as well as creating considerable green space with extensive facilities for sports and leisure which will be open to the community. Rory Martin, Senior Architect at Architype explain the rationale for the design and its benefits for the borough: “The new school for Tower Hamlets is not only an excellent example of ultra-low energy and carbon design through achieving Passivhaus accreditation but also for promoting student’s health and wellbeing in the borough. This means huge savings for the school and local authority in running costs which can be used on vital education requirements elsewhere. The Passivhaus design also delivers particular benefits for air quality, with fresh filtered air, creating a natural defence against the nearby traffic. The complex site challenges with an original dock wall and basement build on a busy road demonstrate that Passivhaus and low carbon design can be achieved on the most challenging of urban sites. This is vital in the race to net zero.”   In the context of rising energy costs, it is essential that education buildings are energy efficient so they can provide the best possible learning environments for young people, minimise operating costs and reduce carbon emissions. Passivhaus design is a proven and tested energy performance standard that fulfils the government’s aspirations. Lichfields has built an enviable track record assisting in the delivery of school projects and specifically Passivhaus education schemes. If you require advice on a similar project, please get in touch and we will be happy to help.    [1][2] The Carbon Trust[3] Phase 3a Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme: project summaries[4] Sustainability and climate change: a strategy for the education and children’s services systems


Planning for climate change: Is London STILL leading the way?
Last year Lichfields published a series of blogs examining various climate change issues. The first in this series explored London’s response to date on the climate change crisis and reviewed the recent findings of the CCC’s 2020 report to parliament. Almost one year on, climate change continues to be at the forefront of both public and government consciousness. This blog provides an update on London’s progress in achieving its Net Zero Target, in the context of a newly adopted London Plan and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, the need to tackle the climate crisis was a policy priority both in London and across the UK[1]. However, the economic and social context for climate action has changed in importance in the past year and it is recognised that pursuit of low-carbon can support economic recovery. From this, policy proposals and funding packages are now being framed as a means to create jobs, promote a “green recovery” from Covid-19 and help the UK meet its revised 5-yearly carbon budgets and achieve its net-zero emissions target. Over the past few months a number of key events have taken place including the Leaders Summit on Climate (22nd and 23rd April) and the 2021 G7 Summit (11th – 13th June) paving the way for vital UN climate talks at the COP26 summit, hosted by the UK in November 2021. Hosting these talks is a major responsibility and gives the UK more influence on the climate commitments of other countries. The power of our example is crucial and the Prime Minister has announced radical new climate change commitments that will set the UK on course to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and will require more electric cars, low-carbon heating and renewable electricity. The need to make progress was given emphasis by the recent publication of the IPCC Report[2]. The government is under pressure to back up this ambitious new target with investment and robust policies and to put the foundations in place for reaching Net Zero. It is doing so in the face of some domestic political challenge over the costs this might incur on poorer households and for managing public spending[3], and criticisms over the geo-political management of the issue in the run up to COP26[4]. Latest policy response In the last year, several key policy documents have emerged at the National level, including the Planning for the Future White Paper (August 2020) and the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution (November 2020). The latter sets out the Prime Minister’s ambitious plan for a ‘green industrial revolution’ and covers clean energy, transport, nature and innovative technologies, with the headline-grabbing announcement of a ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030. Whilst many welcomed the plan’s ambition and the Government’s recognition that tangible action is required to meet society’s Net Zero aspirations, the RTPI stressed that “only by investing in local authority planning teams would a localised framework be established to ensure investment is properly integrated into the built and natural environment”. This was recognised to some extent in the White Paper, which cited planning as having a central role in addressing climate change. However, its proposals did not require local plans to pursue carbon emission reductions in line with the Net Zero target under the Climate Change Act, nor did it address how national and local climate targets will inform the new local plans and planning decisions under the new system. In an effort to attempt to strengthen climate change considerations in local plans, the revised NPPF (2021) includes a change to the wording of the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” for plan making, and now requires plans to “mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects” (para. 11a). Whilst this might beef up the NPPF’s climate change policies, key conclusions from our previous blog were that the Net Zero Target is only achievable if it is embedded and integrated across all levels of policy and investment. There is still some way to go in ensuring that national policy is supporting and enabling local authorities to align their local development plans with national objectives. Recent policy proposals have demonstrated a centralisation of planning policy consideration on topics that affect the climate, which disempowers the ability to consider those issues at the local level. What’s going on in London? The pandemic has impacted London significantly, with the widespread (if temporary) emptying of offices prompting new commuting behaviours and changes to lifestyle. Headlines last year showed a dramatic fall in carbon emissions during lockdown – demonstrating that it is possible to reduce emissions in a short period of time. However, these reductions are largely linked with the slowing of the economy. In response to the pandemic, The GLA has produced a London Recovery Programme[5] which intends to ‘tackle the climate and ecological emergencies and improve air quality by doubling the size of London’s green economy by 2030 - accelerating job creation for all.’ Sadiq Khan has also spoken about the possibility of a Green New Deal for the city that will ‘increase access to green spaces, support active travel and zero emission fleets to eradicate air pollution, help adapt to climate change and deliver better health.’ These strategies are supported by the London Plan which was published on 2 March 2021.[6] Key headlines from the plan, relating to climate change, include the redefinition of zero carbon, requiring new buildings to meet at least 35% reduction of carbon on site with at least 10% (housing) and 15% (non-housing) from energy efficiency (paras. 9.2.5-9.2.7). This demonstrates how reducing energy requirements could be achieved through good design. The plan also introduces the regulation of embodied carbon levels in proposed buildings, requiring all major developments to be Net Zero Carbon by 2030. Its welcome policies mean all new developments must “calculate whole lifecycle carbon emissions through a nationally recognised assessment and demonstrate actions taken to reduce them” (Policy SI 2, Part F). In the context of the now adopted London Plan, the response of Boroughs (in terms of climate emergency declarations and the target dates for reaching net zero emissions) has varied (as shown below). London headline figures 29/33 (88%) London Boroughs have declared a climate emergency. 24/29 (82% of those that have declared) have set targets to become carbon neutral earlier than the UK/London Plan target. Only 2 boroughs have allowed themselves until 2050 to reach carbon neutral. The boroughs that haven’t declared a climate emergency are all outer London boroughs. Whilst most London Boroughs have now made significant commitments to net-zero carbon, it is not yet clear how the reduction targets are to be implemented. We are beginning to see London Boroughs advancing beyond these first steps of recognising the climate crisis by developing strategies to reduce emissions and create on the ground change. LB Greenwich has consulted on its Greenwich Carbon Neutral Plan (2020) which includes the principle of reducing emissions from new buildings, by committing to “strengthen the Local Plan by 2021 to deliver zero carbon development – through adopting a tiered carbon off-set price via SPD; increasing planning officer capacity to negotiate higher sustainable standards in new development; and evaluating options for a Local Plan review”. Similarly, LB Merton’s Climate Strategy and Action Plan (2020) links to the existing Strategic Objectives and Core Strategy planning policies of the Local Plan which features climate and carbon policy requirements, but also identifies the need to draft Local Plan policies in line with the London Plan: including net-zero carbon development for new buildings and reducing embodied carbon. Whilst London Boroughs do appear to be progressing their Climate Strategies/policies, there is still a long way to go and it will need a continuing commitment and development of expertise at city and borough level. The presence of the Mayor of London as a regional planning authority as part of a compact-city approach to strategic planning means that London, unlike anywhere else in the UK, has its own regional plan and the opportunity to develop robust planning policies, setting strong standards to inform and guide the policy approaches of the 33 London Boroughs. But is it the case that London is leading the way, or are local authorities elsewhere in the UK making significant progress without the backing of an additional tier of governance? Our forthcoming research on the UK-wide response of local authorities to climate change will explore place-based responses to the Climate Emergency across the UK. [1] As evidenced by the introduction of the Committee on Climate Change (‘CCC’) (2008), the UK’s commitment to the UN Paris Agreement and the legislation of a Net Zero emissions target of 2050[2] The report and its background appendices is available here:[3] The Office for Budget Responsibility estimated the total cost to the UK of reaching net zero by 2050 could reach £1.4trillion. The National Infrastructure Commission says the poorest tenth of households will pay an extra £80 a year in bills by 2050, the richest tenth an extra £400. HM Treasury is reviewing the costs of the overall programme.[4][5][6] credit: @Aquobex via Twitter