Don’t demolish existing buildings – refit and renovate – it’s better for the environment!

For over 75 years, since the listing of historic and unique buildings were included in the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 about half a million buildings have become listed at either at Grade II, Grade II* or Grade I status across the UK. Essentially this means that the building may not be demolished without special permission from the local planning authority.

However, there are no equivalent laws in the UK that protect the other 25 million UK buildings from needless demolition. According to the Architect’s Journal we lose around 50,000 buildings a year because of this. We support the Architect’s Journal when they say it is time to refresh the Town and Country Planning Act and introduce a ‘Grade III’ status. The restriction on demolition would help reduce the massive carbon footprint of the construction industry. According to the Royal Academy of Engineering the ‘built environment’, of which the construction sector is a crucial component, currently contributes some 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions.  

We need to raise awareness of the environmental costs of demolition and rebuilding. Renovation of an existing building would reduce CO2 emissions and give the opportunity to repurpose many wonderful, but not strictly historical, existing buildings. We are not alone in the quest, The Victorian Society are constantly campaigning for buildings which could be saved from demolition. The Twentieth Century Society are also keen to preserve significant national and local buildings.  

When an area comes under the spectrum of ‘regenerate’ we can breathe new life into a town or rural community by not tearing down a building but by upgrading it.  Buildings, properly integrating with nature, insulated and improved against flooding would not only cost less in climate and financial terms but would maintain and enhance the architectural heritage of the area.

The Government not only needs to change the planning law to introduce the new Grade III listing should also reduce VAT on renovation costs. In the UK we have a crazy situation whereby renovation materials are rated at 20% VAT but a new build is zero-rated, By changing the law there will be a level playing field between new build and renovation.

The cover photo shows the former Magistrates’ Court in Lewes which was demolished to make way for a hotel and shops some of which are still not occupied  The waste of a building which was only opened in 1986 seems unnecessary. The ‘carbon cost’ of the original build (materials) then the demolition (waste processing) and the rebuild (materials) have never been calculated but they must have been high. The new demolition and building project got planning permission in 2015.  

See also the article of 4th January 2023 in Sussex World which covers this topic.

This is a follow-up to The Times article of Monday 2nd Jan 2023 where Kevin McCloud of the TV programme Grand Designs calls for a halt to the demolition of buildings like the M&S building in Oxford Street because of the unnecessary level of carbon emissions in demolition and rebuilding.

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