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Only one in ten businesses has any retrofit budget for their buildings

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Architects criticise businesses’ lack of support for non-domestic retrofits, as revealed in new report

AcIncreasing non-domestic buildings’ efficiency is not a priority, according to the new report.
AcIncreasing non-domestic buildings’ efficiency is not a priority, according to the new report. Credit: Adobe Stock

Architects have reacted with dismay to the findings of a report revealing that just one in ten businesses are assigning any kind of budget to retrofitting non-domestic buildings to reduce their environmental impact.

The survey of heads of property and facilities at 101 UK public and private sector organisations was carried out by multi-disciplinary consultancy Ridge and Partners to gain an accurate picture of the non-domestic building stock.

It found that although over three quarters (76%) of organisations surveyed are working towards becoming net zero and have ‘declared ambitious targets and timetables’, only a quarter (25%) prioritise non-domestic buildings as part of that strategy. Furthermore, only one in three companies with a net zero agenda said they included non-domestic buildings in those plans at all.

The report delved into the reasons behind the lack of support for non-domestic retrofits. Over half (55%) of businesses said company boards do not see retrofitting as part of their net zero strategy. In addition, half of businesses (50%) said company boards are only interested in reducing the operational and maintenance costs of non-domestic buildings.

Active attempts to reduce buildings’ energy consumption- such as solar thermal-are being abandoned in favour of offsetting.
Active attempts to reduce buildings’ energy consumption- such as solar thermal-are being abandoned in favour of offsetting. Credit: Adobe Stock

The survey uncovered widespread misunderstanding of the scale of the UK’s retrofit problem. Over a third of businesses said they believed that 39% or less of the UK’s current building stock will still be in use by 2050, whereas in reality it will be nearer to 70%, according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The report states: ‘Many businesses may be mistakenly assuming that by the time they are required to have a net zero building, the country’s building stock will broadly be new build and carbon neutral, and they will be located in one of these buildings.’

Of the organisations that prioritise getting non-domestic buildings to net zero, some 73% said they aim to do this by 2025 and 30% by 2023. According to the report’s authors, the immediacy of these deadlines suggest that they are considering an offsetting approach, rather than focusing on reducing the energy consumption in their buildings.

Insufficient budgets needed to retrofit non-domestic buildings were also evident. Over half of the heads said they will be operating with the same or lower budgets over the next three years compared to the previous three years.

Commenting on the report’s findings, Nuno Correia, head of sustainability at Wilkinson Eyre, said: ‘There seems to be a wide-spread misconception that grid decarbonisation alone will get buildings to net zero, and confusion about the best route to retrofit existing buildings – it should be clear that a fabric first approach is absolutely crucial. Overall, there is significant work to do in our industry to increase climate literacy, the understanding around net zero and the role of retrofit, and develop the right level of skills and capability.’

The report (cover above) was carried out by multi-disciplinary consultancy Ridge and Partners. Credit: Ridge and Partners

Correia added: ‘I hope the publication of the report will trigger a call for more collaborative working between property and facility managers, and design teams to accelerate non domestic retrofit at scale.’

Gavin Hale-Brown, director of Henley Halebrown Architects, said the report ‘highlights the impact that the lack of knowledge has on creating inertia’, and that the numbers it contains ‘suggest little has changed’ in the 25 years since the practice completed  Talkback London, which won the RIBA Award for Architecture in 2002. ‘When we designed Talkback we had to argue until literally the last day before tender to stop air conditioning being added,’ he said.

Tony Barton, chairman of Donald Insall Associates, said the problem of non-domestic retrofits is exacerbated when companies occupy listed buildings, and highlighted the ‘urgent need to align policies protecting the planet with those conserving historic buildings’. 

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