Energy efficient housing

The announcement by Paul Wheelhouse that the Scottish government will work on new regulations to ensure that new homes use renewable or low carbon energy sources for heating is a small but welcome step in the right direction.  However, the timescale for action is disappointingly unambitious; the new measures are not planned to be implemented until 2024.  Setting a much shorter deadline would send a message to private sector builders and local authorities that ‘climate emergency’ is exactly what it says. In housing, as elsewhere, action needs to be take place on the shortest time lines possible.

Let’s up the pressure for a mass public programme of retrofitting existing houses to be energy efficient.  This is a necessary step and in addition the climate jobs and the improvements in living conditions that it would generate would have a massive impact on people’s attitude to the climate emergency and what needs to be done.  It would be just transition in practice.

Passivhaus_section_en

Passive House, Image CC BY SA 3.0

Housing and climate action

One of the workshop streams at the Scot.E3 conference in November was devoted to housing. This report is from Mike Downham who was one of the facilitators of the discussion.  

  1. Housing in Scotland is a disgrace – from the Muirhead tower blocks to new-build. A participant from Hungary, who has been in Glasgow for a year or so and has had extreme difficulties in finding somewhere to live and which is affordable to heat, said that Scotland’s housing compares very badly with Hungary’s, which at least has thick walls. “You’ve got to do something about it”.
  2. Student housing. The Universities are supplying student housing which is unaffordable except for wealthy students, mostly from the Far East, and make it difficult for most students to find less expensive accommodation. There has been a lot of public criticism about students having such high quality housing, while many citizens are homeless. But the reality is that the majority of students have huge difficulties in finding housing they can afford to rent and heat. It’s not unusual for them to end up on someone else’s sofa.
  3. Commodification of housing since 1980 is at the root of the housing crisis in Scotland. Housing policy has been primarily aimed at growing the national economy, instead of housing being recognised as a human right.
  4. What we can do together towards a just transition in Scotland’s Housing:
  • Demand that Councils bring building standards up to passive-house specifications and replace building control jobs lost in the name of austerity, without which new housing can’t be adequately inspected. These changes are perfectly feasible for Councils.
  • Put pressure on the Scottish Government to ensure that the new Scottish Investment Bank will direct enough funding to build the new houses needed (this is urgent – the Scottish Investment Bank Bill is going through parliament now).
  • Put pressure on Pension Funds to invest in housing.
  • Support grass-roots protest as demonstrated by Living Rent’s support for Muirhouse tenants, which started with door-knocking to get all tenants’ views.
  • Suggest to XR that they target some of their direct action on grass-roots projects such as Muirhouse
  • Suggest that grass-roots projects such as Muirhouse deliver their demands to the COP 26 – to both the formal and the alternative meetings.
  • Keep in our sites the eventual objective of a National Housing Company through which communities will choose the type of housing, local facilities and green species they need
  1. Climate is just one part of the wider argument – so the challenge for the Climate Movement is to build links with all other movements concerned with social injustice.
  2. “We need to close this down” – just as we would have no hesitation in doing if there was a proposal to build an asbestos factory at the end of our street. Though this was said in respect of the climate polluters, the fact that it was said in a discussion on Housing, Health and Fuel Poverty suggests that it should be our approach to all forms of social and planetary injustice.

Construction_of_the_passive_house_10_(18696022004)

Image (Construction of the Passive House) CC BY SA 2.0 from Sustainable Sanitation Alliance  

 

Towards Net Zero?

On the 7th February 2019 Edinburgh City Council resolved to declare a climate emergency. On the 25th October Edinburgh City Council’s Policy and Sustainability met to consider a draft report from the Place-Based Climate Action Network (P-CAN) research project on Achieving Net Zero in the City of Edinburgh. The report will form the basis for discussion of an action plan at the February 2020 meeting of the committee.

In this post Pete Cannell gives a personal response to the report. We hope to publish further contributions on this important topic and we welcome comments, responses to the questions he poses and further contributions.

It’s important and encouraging that, in response to pressure from the School Student strikers, XR and the wider movement, Edinburgh City Council is set to discus actions to reduce carbon emissions. This post takes a critical look at the report that forms the basis for the council’s discussions.

‘Achieving Net Zero in the City of Edinburgh’ is a technical report that summarises research undertaken by the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI), drawing on expertise from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Leeds. Net zero means that carbon emissions from activity in Edinburgh are balanced by an equal amount of carbon being removed from the atmosphere. The net zero target applies to emissions from within the local authority boundaries. Critically, however, some emissions, most notably those from aviation are not included.

The cost-benefit analysis used by the research team is based on the same methodology that was used in the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change that was published in 2006.

The report notes that Edinburgh’s baseline emissions have declined by 40.3% since 2001. This reduction is almost entirely a result of changes in the way that Scotland’s electricity is generated with coal fired power stations closing down and replacement by renewables – primarily wind. Renewables are now such an important part of the grid that there is little scope for further reduction from this source.

The report models three scenarios for how much energy use and emissions could be reduced by 2030:

1. A 56% reduction in carbon emissions as a result of ‘cost effective’ investments amounting to £3.976 billion over the next 11 years. The savings resulting from these investments would repay the investment in 7.5 years and continue to generate savings thereafter.

2. A 62% reduction as a result of ‘cost neutral’ investments of £7.492 billion over the 11 years to 2030 that would be paid back in savings over 12.5 years.

3. A 67% reduction exploiting the full technical potential of the different mitigation measures proposed. This is estimated to require investment of at least £8.135 billion with the cost neutral pay back extending to 16.1 years.

The figures aggregate emission reduction strategies across multiple sectors – commercial, transport, domestic and industrial and the report provides some detailed proposals for the kinds of investment that needs to be made in each of these.

The report is honest about the scale of the technical and investment challenge but confines consideration of politics and strategy to the observation that:

Whilst the opportunities outlined here are all feasible and ‘win-wins’ for stakeholder groups across the city, they will require near-immediate and unequivocal support from institutions and the public.

Will the City Council’s action plan be framed in a way that faces up to the urgency of the crisis and wins unequivocal support? And will it address the gap between the reductions proposed in the report and net zero? Climate campaigners have a critical role to play here. We have a responsibility to build a movement embedded in working class communities across the city that is active, restless, rebellious and probes, questions and criticizes at every stage and every step. And we need to develop a collective understanding of how actions to reduce emissions and the unequivocal support of the mass of the population are achieved and built through democratic engagement and a focus on social justice.

There are a host of questions that we need to address. In the hope of starting a debate I’ll mention just a few!

The activities of the city council are responsible for only a small percentage of Edinburgh’s emissions. So how does an effective action plan ensure that the investment into emissions reductions envisaged by ‘Towards Net Zero’ take place across all areas of energy consumption? How does a council action plan leverage action across the whole city? Clearly there’s a role for regulation – for example imposing building regulations that mandate carbon neutral new builds. There’s also a case for investment in large-scale public initiatives – for example building insulation.

‘Towards Net Zero’ focuses on a cost benefit approach together with the implementation of existing low carbon technologies – and holds out the promise that in future emerging technologies will bridge the gap to net zero. Is this an appropriate methodology in the face of an existential crisis? Can it actually work? It’s not business as usual but it suggests that conventional methods together with technology can achieve net zero. So is net zero achievable without system change? And if it’s not, what does system change look like?

Treating carbon reduction as an issue about investment and technology may also hide real issues of policy. So for example business and tourism planning in Edinburgh have both had huge impact on how and where we live, the distances we travel to work and how we travel. As Edinburgh’s workforce is pushed further outside the city boundaries to find affordable accommodation the carbon footprint of our daily working lives has grown. But the ‘Towards Net Zero’ effectively excludes these issues, as it does the massive rise in aviation emissions, which are so strongly linked to current planning priorities. So while we can commend the City Council’s steps towards an action plan there is a powerful case for integrated planning across the region and for new policy frameworks for housing, health, work, transport and tourism that centre on zero carbon and social justice.

2018-07-04 12.45.17

Image: Pete Cannell, CC0

There is an opportunity to discuss the issues raised in this post at the  Scot.E3 conference that takes place on 16th November.  Book for the conference on Eventbrite and email triple.e.scot@gmail.com if you want to book one or more crèche places.

Urban change in a time of climate crisis

Housing is a central issue in the transition to a long term sustainable economy.  As a group Scot.E3 has produced resources on Fuel Poverty and we are currently working on more resources that look at how passive houses and a mass campaign of home insulation could contribute to a just transition while at the same time as improving the quality off people’s lives.  We’re pleased to publish a post by Save Leith Walk activist Ian Hood on the work that the campaign has done to think about the future of hosing in their area.

43291439955_b92aa80253_z

Early in 2018, it became clear that developers wanted to demolish a long parade of shops in Leith Walk and replace it with a student accommodation.  A popular local campaign emerged to challenge this and in January 2019 Edinburgh Council agreed that the building should not be demolished and that the proposed development was unacceptable.  Planning Permission was refused.

But the campaign has always been about more than just opposing the wishes of developers.  To be successful in the long run we need to promote an alternative vision, one that reflects the needs of the local community and can take it forward.

Over the last year campaign members have spoken to thousands of local workers and residents about what is important to them. We have directly canvassed the opinions of hundreds of local people about their preferences for new development in the Leith Walk area.   This was followed up by a local community planning workshop that looked at the needs and wishes of people who lived in the area.

And at the heart of the emerging view was the sense that any new development had to be both sustainable and promote strong environmental values.

We did not create a single business plan or an architectural map for developers.  We identified the three different elements that can contribute to the vision.  Sketch maps that illustrate each of these were drawn up.   The need for more social housing dominated in all of the visions and also important were business space, community support and green space.

Running through the core of the vision is the idea that ecological and environmental issues are not add ons at the end of a planning process but integral to any design.

blog image leith

Community Housing (see image above) faces up to the long term problem of housing provision in Leith and provides a range of solutions to housing need.  Building diverse housing that allows people to live and play together strengthens our communities in fundamental ways.

  • Opening up to the Leith Walk community by creating new access through the centre of the building.
  • A covered walkway could be created at the rear of the building bringing the housing units into connection with the sandstone building.
  • Up to Eleven housing blocks in different sizes and shapes could be built in the land behind offering a range of housing opportunities including
    • Open Market homes,
    • intergenerational housing,
    • flexible and adaptable homes,
    • co-housing models
  • Designed to the Passive Housing standards making environmentally friendly homes.
  • Living walls could blend the development into the surrounding space
  • There could be a shared guest house and other community space reducing the need for spare rooms and encouraging sharing.
  • Affordable student housing owned by the community.

Community Cohesion is about strengthening community links and helping people to focus on the challenges that affect them and develop new skills to tackle them.   It can create a new vision of community where people from different racial, class, gender, age and religious backgrounds are partners in their own futures.

  • A refreshed building, made Green Energy resilient.
  • New opportunities to existing businesses and new small, low cost starter units.
  • Blocks of colony style eco homes consisting of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom flats to allow for real flexibility over time.Social housing block providing accessible housing for older people and disabled people.
  • A Community Event Centre that could offer classes and social opportunities.
  • Opportunities for beehives, public artworks, fruit trees, bench seating. And an open air market.

Community Enterprise addresses the challenge of how to create employment opportunities in Leith that meet the demands of the global market.  It recognises that businesses are stronger when cooperation and mutual support are part of a shared value basis.  Working together to create jobs, new business and entrepreneurial opportunities can transform our community.

  • The building would be refreshed, upgrading it with an accessible green roof and additional business pods.
  • The existing shops and business would be revitalised to offer opportunities to existing businesses as well as offering small, low cost starter units.
  • Design attention to wellbeing and support for locals. A community bakery could be integral part of the building to allow people to come together, to bake bread together and to share bread together.
  • A social enterprise and community space to train and share business skills including incubator units for creative, media, IT and other businesses.
  • A block of open market starter, eco homes with space for new businesses
  • Additional green space with open meadows planted with wildflowers, recreational natural green space, community orchard, accessible allotments, beehives and vegetable gardens.

Our vision seeks to build on the strength of the existing community and to create new ways of bringing people together.  They can enhance the area, preserve its diversity and inclusivity, and contribute towards Leith having a bright future in the 21stcentury.

The Stead’s Place site is too small to contain all of these solutions but we will work with other sites and local stakeholders over the next few months to develop our plans.

Urban development today in the light of a real Climate Crisis needs to work with people’s needs and not be imposed by profit seekers.   Single sites cannot be allowed to simply focus on one issue, retail, student accommodation, tourism but must integrate different part of the community’s need into a coherent vision.

We have started that work and welcome the support of others in continuing to develop this vision.

Ian Hood

Save Leith Walk

For More Information and contact us

Email:  Info@saveleithwalk.org

Web:www.saveleithwalk.org

30329970098_c74bb057ff_z