A good idea or bonkers?
If a building or structure can be sensibly reused, retained and/or modified as part of a redevelopment, then great. Doing this should be the starting point for any developer’s brief.
But if there are strong enough reasons not to reuse, retain or modify what is existing, then the right answer might be to deconstruct (not demolish) to make way for the redevelopment. There should be clear and significant justification for this action, such as: thermal efficiency, structural capacity, layout benefits, robustness, longevity, or perhaps a whole life carbon assessment.
The decision whether to reuse or not should be driven by the market. Carbon has been creeping up the agenda in recent years and is increasing in price. Surely rising carbon and energy prices, plus planners expanding their levies on development based on building performance, will drive developers to make the right decision?
Why am I making this point?
Will Arnold, a friend in the industry, recently wrote in the AJ about a “perhaps bonkers” idea to introduce a Grade III listing, which would apply automatically to every major property (for example >1,000m2) and it would come with just one rule: the property may only be demolished if it is structurally unsafe, or is given special dispensation by the local planning authority. It would still allow layout alteration, strengthening of foundations, adding new floors and upgrading façades - alterations that Will (and I think most of us) considers vital if we are to keep doing the most social good for our country.
Let me know your view on the poll below.
Personally, I think Grade III would be a step too far and would add further burden into the already stretched planning process. Instead I think we can get most of that way there, towards the same goal, but without such a blanket rule. The planners can and will be asking for statements on the circular economy and energy/carbon analysis as part of a submission, which should be sufficient and include narrative to justify a proposed design solution.
In the piece, there’s an argument that this could ‘change everything’ overnight but our industry is slow moving and complex, and I’m not sure it would go so smoothly. Yes, it would suspend the debate around whether to the lower the crazy taxes on refurbishments and it would definitely raise awareness of the environmental costs of demolition, but surely it would put the brakes on development whilst projects try and adjust to a new set of rules. Could we not just change the tax rule on refurbishments?
The view that I’ve just described is very similar to the RetroFirst campaign.
I’m all for moving faster than we presently are to introduce new measures to promote reuse. These should help to incentivise behaviour and follow a gradual introduction so as not to put handcuffs on the industry and stop development while projects catch up.
It is also interesting to consider whether Grade III would solve some issues around high-profile decisions, which the article suggests. I’m not sure, and expect it would just shift “the expensive and public court cases picking apart the competency of those professionals working in sustainability” into a different focus… why something was allowed, rather than not allowed.
Will and I are definitely aligned in the goal and approach to development, but this idea just seems a little too close to bonkers for me to buy into. Hopefully talking about some extreme measures helps put the current policies and state of the industry into perspective. In a post introducing this idea by Will he said how COP27 left him deflated. I can see why his reaction was to suggest something quite radical, given that our leaders often only talk about issues and rarely take action.
Between writing this and publishing, I noticed that Will’s article has gained traction in the media, with Mr Grand Designs himself, Kevin McCloud adding support. It’s great that these conversations are finding their way into the mainstream, but I just hope that our industry manages to explain that decisions around reuse versus deconstruction are complex and involve many factors. We will still need to take down buildings in the future, so we should not label all deconstruction as bad.
I believe Will, Kevin and I are all agreed on the principles behind this - who wouldn’t be. I just need more convincing that a blanket Grade III listing is the right policy.