Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Heritage versus Energy Efficiency?

Hot on the heels of my last post about the need to insulate our period properties to make them as low-carbon as possible, comes the news that the Department for Media, Culture and Sport, together with English Heritage is considering listing the Excalibur Estate in Downham. The Excalibur Estate consists of 185 post-war pre-fabs. The Council wants to transfer them over to a housing association (L&Q) to demolish them and make way for new more energy-efficient (and higher density) housing, arguing that they can't bring the properties up to decent homes standard. They are in the process of balloting residents about this stock transfer. However, a number of the residents are very attached to where they live and feel their community will be destroyed.

I suspect that besides attachment to the homes they live in, a good chunk of residents' concerns is that their detached bungalows with individual gardens will be replaced with something much higher density with less outside space (L&Q's proposals are to increase the number of homes on the estate from 186 to around 460 homes, which they argue is a similar density to that of the surrounding areas.).

I have sympathies with both sides here - it's a lovely estate, part of our heritage, but can the properties be insulated sufficiently to keep residents warm without having to spend a fortune on heating bills? As a rule of thumb, I would say that reducing our carbon emissions has to take priority over aesthetic/heritage concerns, but I would like to see more evidence to show whether the two really are mutually incompatible in this case. My experience from Brockley PFI so far has also been that reducing the thermal efficiency of properties has not been the central plank of the decent homes scheme that it should have been.

The whole heritage/aesthetics versus energy-efficiency debate is one that needs to be had, particularly around here, with lots of draughty Victorian properties in and around the conservation area. I think we probably can insulate our Victorian conservation area properties without needing to demolish them or change their appearance by externally cladding them, but if push came to shove, cutting the carbon would take priority for me.

I bet Steve Bullock is quietly cussing English Heritage for throwing a spanner in yet another of his plans (the recent listing of Louise House having thwarted his plans for rebuilding the Forest Hill Pools). What next? Max, any plans to get any of those modernist buildings in Lewisham you love so much listed? Citibank Tower, Ladywell Leisure Centre perhaps? Please no . . .


max said...

He he, here I am.
I never sympathized with proposals to try and have the Ladywell Leisure Centre listed actually, a few people threw that idea to me but I didn't support it. I don't know if that would be granted but if one would submit a well-written application there would be some degree of risk.
I nevertheless suspect that a comparison of energy costs that includes demolition and rebuild versus what upgrade of the present building could deliver would not present a clear advantage for new built.
I mostly value Ladywell Pool as a benchmark for its replacement rather than an unsurpassable example that needs to be retained, hence my discontent at a couple of the specs of the new pool that I think are not what they should be.

You may have read on SE23 that I'm horrified by the listing of Louise House but there are other considerations there. It's about the missing opportunity to start works immediately and having a bigger leisure centre than what can e delivered now. An antropocentric consideration rather than energy efficiency.
I agree that the Louise House and Forest Hill Pools gruop has some historic value but I also think that it has very little architectural or even aesthetic value so on balance it would have been better if they had been demolished.

Likewise in the interests of beauty alone Citibank should come down (the building, not the bank).

The Excalibur Estate issue is very interesting and you know what I think, that they are cute little houses where I wouldn't mind living too and if they have a little garden to grow their vegetables then they keep fit through gardening, this will mean better blood circulation that in turn means less need of heat in the house.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha you rose to the bait! Re the pool and energy costs in demolition, a lot does depend on construction methods and how they recycle the materials post demolition etc, but I would have thought given that swimming pools are so energy-intensive to operate, savings over a lifetime would be considerably greater than for other buildings.

I think if I was an elderly resident living on Excalibur Estate struggling to meet the fuel bills to heat my home, I may not look kindly on someone telling me to do more gardening to keep warm!

max said...

I had spotted the honeytrap, I just could not resist jumping into it!

Yes it could be that building new saves energy compared to refurbishing but until somebody tries to calculate what savings could be achieved by adaptations to the existing one there are no terms of comparison.

But writing that bit of nonsense about gardening and blood circulation made me think that actually there's something there.
As human bodies require less heat when they're in state of fitness then the energy used to run a swimming pool translates into thermal efficiency gains for the bodies of the swimmers, in turn that translates into less energy for domestic heating. So you spend in one way to save in another.

Anyway, swimming pools are so energy hungry that they can be used as cogeneration units and I think that the new pool is also supposed to provide energy to the blocks nearby and I'm very pleased about it.

But, but....where's the deep end?
My point is that Ladywell Pool provides a benchmark, there should be no lowering of standards when planning its replacement.
Yesterday I learnt that diving is being taught at the Bridge because it has a 3.5 m deep end. Ladywell has 3.8m but Loampit Vale is supposed to have 2m only. Why?
Sports England is saying that they want to promote diving but there are no pools being built with enough deep end to do it so they are doing "dry training" using straps and braces to flip in the air mimicking dives. I want to see that, it must be pretty ridiculous.
We have the chance of having a good pool built for not much more than what it costs to build what is now being planned.
And btw 2 more lanes wouldn't go amiss.

About Excalibur, I hear you, if they are cold they must be improved but is it really that difficult to apply insulating panels around them? They are shoeboxes, how hard can that be?
I can't sympathize with the Decent Homes Scheme really when it's saying that it's for upgrading when there's a blatant hidden agenda of densification taht doesn't even come with any other benefit that I know of. There's a community there and many people feel that they'll be transformed into blocks of flats and object to that and they really have my sympathy.
I'm sorry for those that would like to be "upgraded". Maybe they can ask for a transfer and move into a decent standard block of flats somewhere else. Do you know if they have this option available to them?

I still feel a bit ambivalent about the listing of buildings that are not conventionally beautiful in order to achieve a political point but defense of a community could be a reasonal ground for this "misbehaviour".

Pete said...

Won't knocking these houses and rebuilding them with new materials (which will have to be fabricated) produce a mountain of CO2, whilst also forcing the residents into rabbit hutch flats which they will hate?

To me that sounds like a pretty bad idea..

Anonymous said...

Both options involve a fairly hefty amount of carbon, whether you continue heating poorly-insulated, draughty homes, or use lots of concrete to build new ones. That's why I would like to know a bit more about the feasibility of insulating the existing houses and the relative carbon cost.