Green issues

Calke Abbey – dual standards?

Posted on

I am a big fan of the National Trust and what it does in terms of preserving our heritage and also providing very pleasant destinations for a few hours walk or similar. As a family we have been members for many years and I do feel it provides great value for money.

Recent years have seen the Trust move towards increasingly more open and commercial approaches to their property management and ‘offer’. Some see this as a negative thing – but I don’t agree, it has made the properties far more popular and busy, they have to move with the times to survive and fund the works to their portfolio of properties and estates.

In many places the retail offer has been expanded to increase the provision of food and drinks – either by way of new cafe or restaurant premises within the properties themselves or in adjacent outbuildings. This is always done in a sensitive manner in keeping with the property and its environment – just as the National Trust do most things.

The new cafe
The new cafe

Calke Abbey which is one of my favourite local NT properties is a classic case in this regard, it is very popular and the restaurant has been ‘creaking’ for a number of years. There is an area to the rear of the restaurant which has been used as a picnic area for years and it has buildings around it which have cried out for refurbishing for a cafe use or similar for years. Finally last year this work was completed and there is now a very smart cafe in this area – and it has been completed in a very sensitive way to fit in with the surrounding buildings – well done National Trust.

However I am at a loss to understand why all hot drinks from here are served in disposable paper cups – this is surely totally at odds with the Trust’s ‘ethics’? One thing that is always noticeable at a NT property is the lack of bins – they expect people to take their rubbish home with them (which most do). So why have they now chosen to use something which I accept probably can be recycled but is surely nowhere as ‘green’ as using traditional crockery and then washing it?

Or am I missing something?

Double standards?

Posted on

The news this week that included in the Queen’s speech is the  provision for a 5p charge to be levied on plastic carrier bags at English supermarkets has to be applauded. We are way behind Europe on this (even Wales are ahead of us!) Bags for life are the way forward, and if the European offer is any example to go by they do indeed last for years (I have a collection from France, Italy and Spain).

BpPBMCpCUAAeYxk.jpg-largeWhat did make me laugh however is the Daily Mail’s claim that this change is down to them and that they have fully supported the drive to adopt this. They may well have been behind the campaign (they no doubt believed it appealed to the average Mail reader).

However, this is the same newspaper that has been telling its readers not to adopt energy saving lightbulbs and to stockpile all the old tungsten bulbs!

Proof if any was needed that newspaper campaigns are about selling newspapers – and nothing to do with saving the environment or even changing society for the better.

A Parisian discovery…

Posted on Updated on

20130409-195703.jpgI am in Paris for a few days, a city that I like to think I have a reasonable feel for, but today proved that you can always discover something new, even in a city you think you know…

New York is well known for its HighLine or ‘park in the sky’ – I am looking forward to seeing it in the summer when we are there as a family as I have heard so many positive things about it. However, today I discovered Paris’s own HighLine – la promenade plantee. This is a similar thing – a former railway line and viaduct in a city environment that has been formed into an amazing linear park. In addition the arches below have also been refurbished and created into workshops and retail space for artists and artisans. This in fact was the original High Line, built sixteen years before the New York model, and apparently it served as inspiration to it’s American counterpart.

The promenade stretches for almost 5 kilometers across the 12th arrondissement following the path of the retired ligne de Vincennes railway track from Bastille to the boulevard Périphérique. It is highly popular with runners as well as for ‘promenading’ and was quite busy mid morning when we were walking it. It is also beautifully planted and in places you would be hard pushed to believe that you weren’t in a larger garden rather than on a city viaduct!

20130409-195454.jpgIt is great to see regeneration on this scale in a city – the walkway itself is great, but the conversion of the arches below is simply stunning and provides fantastic space for new businesses. Sadly I can’t see this level of planning commitment or general vision in the UK – somehow I feel the use of bulldozers would have been more likely?

The Green Deal – a flawed deal?

Posted on Updated on

Today sees the launch of the Green Deal – you have possible heard of it, but probably don't know the details of what it offers or how it works. The government haven't in my opinion been very forthcoming when it comes to publicising it! So what does it offer and is it worth your time?

20130127-195824.jpgWell, on the face of it the scheme is a great idea, providing funding for home improvement that make a property 'greener' – by way of new boilers, better insulation etc – you get the idea. The repayments are handled by your services provider, the idea being that the savings you make on heating are paid for by the cost of your loan – so in effect your bill doesn't drop, but your house is more efficient – but here lies the problem;

The loan can be over a long period – up to 25 years and passes with the property. So if you do a lot of green deal improvements and then a few years down the line sell up, the loan passes to the next owner.

Perhaps even more of a problem is that the loan is not interest free and this can actually make it more expensive that just borrowing the money on tHe high street to do the works!

But the real killer is that the initial survey is not free – costs of between £100 – £150 are quoted, and this is not recoverable if the green deal won't actually work for your property!

People will only do these works if they can see a benefit in their pocket – everything about the way the deal works goes against this – and is possibly why since October when green deal surveys could start to be done only a handful (literally) have been done!

So a great idea, but very badly managed. Cost to the government will be the reason for the charges and interest payments, but I cannot see the Green Deal doing much business until something changes…..

The future of lighting?

Posted on Updated on

The move away from the ‘good old’ tungsten bulb is now almost complete. Some people have stock piled them in cupboards as they don’t like the much more efficient and longer lasting alternatives – compact fluorescents and LED’s. but generally there does now seem to ba an acceptance that the move away from old style bulbs is the way to go (unless of course you read the Daily Mail!).

It appear now however that there is a new kid on the block – the plastic bulb. Sounds strange I will admit, and it is currently at a very early stage. But according to the inventors ( in the US) it gives a much nicer light. So what is it exactly?

The new light source is called field-induced polymer electroluminescent (Fipel) technology. It is made from three layers of white-emitting polymer that contain a small volume of nanomaterials that glow when electric current is passed through them. 

The inventor of the device is Dr David Carroll, professor of physics at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. He says the new plastic lighting source can be made into any shape, and it produces a better quality of light than compact fluorescent bulbs which have become very popular in recent years.

And the first versions should be available next year!

A better approach?

Posted on Updated on

As one of the Worlds major economies we are used to hearing the mantra about growing GDP (gross domestic product) in the UK – if it falls it is apparently ‘the end of the world’. But what if there is a ‘better way’?

The tiny country of Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not GDP.

r733829_5941383Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La. For the past three decades, this belief – that wellbeing should take preference over material growth – has remained a global oddity. However in the current world which is beset by economic and environmental disasters this approach is beginning to interest the larger world players, and will be discussed in Doha at the UN climate change conference.

Bhutan’s stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan’s call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan’s GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has put environmental conservation and sustainability at the heart of its political agenda. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled life expectancy, enrolled almost 100% of its children in primary school and overhauled its infrastructure. At the same time, placing the natural world at the heart of public policy has led to environmental protection being enshrined in the constitution. The country has pledged to remain carbon neutral and to ensure that at least 60% of its landmass will remain under forest cover in perpetuity. It has banned export logging and has even instigated a monthly pedestrian day that bans all private vehicles from its roads.

We all hark back to simpler times at some point in our lives, perhaps this is a further example that some of the ‘old values’ are perhaps even more valid today than they were then?

Not down to us?

Posted on Updated on

I had an extremely pleasant evening last week at the Mattioli Woods charity dinner in support of Rainbows Hospice – a fabulous cause and hopefully one that benefited greatly from the night.

The guest speaker was Lord Lawson – known to the younger members of society as Nigella’s dad, but better known to the rest of us as the Chancellor during Maggie’s three periods in office. He is now in his early 80’s, so it was going to be interesting to see what his take on things as they are now was. And in many ways we were not disappointed – he is undoubtably a very bright man, and if I am half as active at this age I will be very happy!

However, there was one part of his speech that did worry me – he will always play to the ‘Daily Mail readers’ in a room, and the other night was no different. But his views on Global Warming I did find rather blinkered, especially after his comments about it being ‘a religion’ that no one was permitted to challenge anymore! He basically appears to believe that we are having no effect upon the planet and that burning fossil fuels is definitely the way forward!

I accept that it is not a clear-cut case – but the current extreme weather, the melting polar areas – not our fault?

The photo above is of my home town, Malmesbury in Wiltshire. As a family we have been there over 40 years and I cannot recall a time when the bottom of the High Street has flooded and blocked access into the town – even before all the flood alleviation work was done a good few years ago – so do we assume this is just a fluke event?

Left high and dry?

Posted on Updated on

20121026-202046.jpgI am a Chartered Surveyor – and proud of it. My membership of the RICS allows me to do my job and satisfy my clients that I have the necessary knowledge and qualifications to do it properly. So why does the RICS make it so difficult for me to consider them my ‘friend’ in business?

Let me explain – a few years ago I undertook the RICS accredited Energy Assessors course to qualify as an RICS accredited energy assessor – this would allow me to prepare EPC’s for my firm and clients and then lodge them. The training was quite intensive and not cheap, but I was proud to be accredited by the RICS as they were considered to be one of the better managed schemes – so perhaps of a better quality?

So all looks rosy – until Friday when I gathered (second hand) that the RICS are going to withdraw their accreditation scheme – so I will have to register with another body. This will possibly entail doing further exams – despite being qualified already, and more importantly if I don’t act quickly, might cause a break in me being able to provide the service.

I picked the information up from an RICS forum, from other equally confused assessors. I have subsequently spoken to the RICS by telephone and they have confirmed the news, and told me the letters are in the ‘process of going out’ – have they not heard of email? I have however been told officially by the software provider I use for EPC calculations and lodgment (Lifespan) and have also received an email from an alternative accreditation scheme (Elmhurst Energy) offering a free transfer.

So why if they can all contact me so quickly and efficiently, cant the RICS (who are supposed to look after my interests for me?)

Oh, and the notice that the RICS has given its members? Five weeks (and that is for the ones that have heard officially – I still haven’t). So am I to believe that this decision was only taken a few days ago – I think not!

Now do you see my issue with the RICS?

Trinity House

Posted on Updated on

This week I was lucky enough to have a brief tour of the new EON building – Trinity House – that sits at the corner of Trinity Square in the heart of Nottingham. Now this is the largest office building to be built new in the city for a number of years – the pre-let to EON ensured that it would happen.

The building is quite impressive inside, having a central full height atrium with glass lifts serving all 9 floors, it is also the greenest building in the city – holding a BREEAM excellent rating and an ‘A’ rating for its EPC. As an environment for its just over 1000 occupants it will be modern and comfortable. However, as a building it doesn’t really push any ‘boundaries’ for me.

Due to the fact that EON are tenants in the building and they don’t own it, the structure is actually quite ‘normal’. One might have expected there to be a raft of renewable elements, but in reality there is next to nothing – no PV’s, no water harvesting, and only a very small element of green roof. It is connected to the district heating scheme, which helps its cause, but that is really it for renewable energy.

Now, I am sure that if EON had more control over the building spec they might have added some renewables, but I do think this is a lost opportunity for the City. As a part of the street scene I think it looks well – it doesn’t ‘over power’ the surrounding buildings – something the architects should be proud of.

Yes, it is a green building, and it has managed this using existing technologies – which is impressive, but in my view it doesn’t push the envelope at all.

Prepare your property!

Posted on Updated on

As an energy assessor I get to inspect a large number of properties, most of which are vacant and looking to be sold or let. Consequently it is in the vendors (or Landlords) interest to ‘make the most’ of the property. Historically this has taken the form of ensuring units are cleared out, kept secure and generally ‘tarted up’ where required. If you were selling your house you would follow a similar regime to assist the sale.

There is however now another major factor that vendors and Landlords now need to consider as part of their marketing preparation, the EPC (or energy performance certificate). All commercial properties now need one if they are to be sold or let, so why don’t people take getting the best rating they can seriously?

This week I have prepared an EPC on a period office building (in Derby), nothing unusual there. But, a high proportion of the bulbs were old style tungstens (the type favoured by Daily Mail readers). As part of my report back to the client I highlighted that changing these all to CFL’s (compact fluorescents) would make a massive difference to the rating which as it stood would be an ‘F’.

Before the change
After the change…..

This being most important due to the changes due in 2018 which would make this property unmarketable if it remained as an ‘F’. This is something that all Landlords need to consider as part of their property portfolio reviews moving forwards.

On this property the change was quite remarkable  – for the cost of around 20 CFL’s (£20?) the rating moved from an ‘F’ to a ‘D’! So as far as this client is concerned the bulb change will be done, the EPC updated to a ‘D’ and the properties long term future secured.

So, in a nutshell, before you get your property assessed give some thought to the simple items you can alter like bulbs and fluorescent tubes – it may save you a lot more than just electricity in the long-term!