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Big industry names back AJ’s RetroFirst campaign

Retrofirst demands all
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The RIBA, UK Green Building Council and TCPA among the latest signatories to come on board

A trio of leading professional organisations in the built environment have thrown their weight behind the AJ RetroFirst campaign.

The RIBA’s new president, Alan Jones, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council Julie Hirigoyen, and Fiona Howie, chief executive of the Town & Country Planning Association, all called on the government to promote and incentivise the reuse of existing buildings as a key means of tackling the climate emergency.

RetroFirst, which was launched at the AJ’s annual Retrofit Awards last week and will be developed in the coming months, calls for government action in three key areas – tax, procurement and policy –and has already won support from five RIBA Stirling Prize-winning architectural practices, among others.

Welcoming the AJ’s initiative, Jones said retrofitting was part of the solution to the ‘greatest challenge facing our planet and our profession’.

He said: ‘From breathing new life into old buildings to sensitively adapting buildings to meet the demands of changes in performance and how we live, it’s vital that more is done to incentivise, support and promote the reuse and adaptation of existing buildings.’

Hirigoyen said: ‘Prioritising and incentivising retrofit is a no-brainer if we’re serious about tackling the built environment’s contribution to the climate crisis and reducing the huge amount of waste the industry creates.

‘It is great to see The Architects’ Journal leading the charge to raise awareness of the benefits of retrofit and championing some important policy measures.’

And Howie said she was particularly keen to see moves made to reform VAT, which often makes demolition and rebuild a cheaper option than refurbishment.

‘If we are serious about tackling the climate emergency, and taking action at both the national and local level, securing changes that will promote and enable the reuse of existing building stock are crucial,’ she said.

‘This must be done to a high quality though, unlike many of the schemes being delivered through permitted development rights at the moment.

‘It has long been nonsensical that we have a VAT regime that supports new build while disincentivising renovations, including bringing empty homes back into use.’

Retrofirst demands all

Retrofirst demands all

Other RetroFirst backers on why they support the campaign

Anna Woodeson, LTS Architects ‘We don’t have the carbon budget for buildings with high embodied carbon, nor do we have a circular economy developed enough to deal with extensive demolition, so deep retrofit should be our main priority.’

Architects’ Climate Action Network ‘We believe incentivising reuse of materials and structures will help to make the construction industry resilient in the ongoing climate and biodiversity emergency, and will ultimately help us to make better, truly sustainable buildings. Radical systematic change is needed in national planning policy and legislation to enable us to become a NetZero economy by 2050, and we see the proposals by the AJ to be a vital part of the widespread change needed. We urge the government, and any relevant organisations to support these long overdue proposals.’

Clara Bagenal George, Elementa Consulting ‘Fantastic leadership by the AJ tackling retrofit. Large scale deep retrofit is key to meeting our climate change targets and the demands of the RetroFIRST campaign are an absolute must.’

Walter Menteth, architect and procurement reform campaigner ‘Gobbling up ever more embodied energy in a continuing consumptive cycle is unaffordable if construction is to achieve CO2 emmissions reductions. This is an extremely important AJ campaign that everyone in construction should welcome and rally behind as it directly addresses key causes underlying so much of this consumption.’

Tarek Merlin, Feix&Merlin ‘Demolition and construction will always cost us more in environmental terms than reuse but due to economics the reuse of existing buildings generally costs more in financial terms. By reducing or removing the VAT burden, the government could send a very positive message to encourage these kinds of retrofit redevelopments, so that more underused or derelict building could be brought back to life.’

Paul O’Neil, Bryden Wood ‘Retrofirst is a great campaign and should be supported by the government as the reuse of existing buildings is crucial to create sustainable regeneration and reduce carbon emissions in construction. However we need to ensure the planning process allows for this without resulting in redevelopments with poor space standards, as we have seen with some recent office to residential retrofits via permitted development.’

Kelly Harrison, Heyne Tillett Steele ‘Prioritising and incentivising retrofit is a no brainer if we’re serious about tackling the built environment’s contribution to the climate crisis and reducing the huge amount of waste the industry creates. It is great to see Architects’ Journal leading the charge to raise awareness of the benefits of retrofit and championing some important policy measures.’

James Traynor, ECD Architects ‘I could not agree more with this campaign. This focus on our existing stock (85% of which will still be here in 2050) is long overdue. We can achieve zero carbon in our existing stock but it will take concerted effort by all underpinned by active Government support. In doing so we need to target best practice (i.e.: EnerPHit) and avoid locking in mediocre improvement. We need to align planned maintenance with step-by-step thermal improvement as part of a retrofit strategy for all buildings which will the deliver reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions that we desperately need.’

Hero Bennett, Max Fordham ‘We will never meet our carbon targets and protect the future of humanity if we continue to consume buildings in a linear fashion. There are great examples of superb energy efficient and sensitive retrofit and that needs to become the norm. It can also be the equitable solution - So often communities want reuse and are told it’s too expensive, retrofit can bring communities together in a way that a new build might not. The policies this campaign promotes could be a game changer for reducing the embodied carbon of our industry and making our existing building stock fit for the future.’

Simon Henley, Henley Halebrown ‘Having spent 20 plus years reactivating and refurbishing buildings we’d be very happy to support your RetroFirst campaign.’

How you can get involved

Follow the progress of RetroFirst using #retrofirst on social media
Contact us at retrofirst@emap.com to back the campaign

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Readers' comments (1)

  • We fully support the AJ’s campaign to promote Retrofit and a (long overdue!) re-think of the way in which it could be promoted by changes in taxation and planning policy. However as Simon Allford points out, we need to look beyond re-use as the new-builds of today are of course the retrofit of the future.

    If buildings are to last longer and adapt to new uses over the course of their life, we need to build in the concept of loose fit and employ methods of construction that are flexible enough to accommodate modification over time. Think Georgian terrace. They have survived as an urban type because they are easily adaptable. We don’t need to copy them - just take on board the reasons behind their enduring success.

    Steve Ritchie (Steve Ritchie Partnership)

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