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Experts fear new eco-legislation will mean offices lie empty

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Experts have raised concern that new legislation making it illegal to rent out inefficient buildings could lead to properties being left empty

Under the Minimum Energy Performance Standards regulations, landlords will be forced to install energy-saving measures in buildings which fall into the two worst energy efficiency ratings – Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Bands F and G – before they can take on new tenants.

Earlier this week the new law, which is set to come into effect from April 2018, was heralded as the ‘most significant piece of legislation in a generation’ by the UK Green Building Council.

But some are concerned that the changes will lead landlords to leave properties vacant rather than splash out on the cost of upgrading them.

Fionn Stevenson, head of Sheffield School of Architecture, said: ‘Unless there is appropriate resource made available to match this legislation, many buildings owned by cash or time-strapped landlords may just lie empty.’

Tom Dollard, head of sustainability at Pollard Thomas Edwards, added: ‘It will encourage developers to demolish and rebuild instead of refurbish.’

Architects also expressed concern that the work to upgrade the buildings – believed by consultant WSP to be 35 per cent of the UK’s commercial stock – would not go to architects. Dollard said: ‘Most of the new work will go to energy consultants and contractors.’

Comments

Roderic Bunn, consultant, BSRIA
‘As with all government led initiatives of this kind: well meaning and ostensibly punitive for non compliance, but unless extra resources are made available (and regulatory carrots to incentivise improvements) the law will be difficult to enforce. Measuring energy accurately is hard, and if the government thinks smart meters are the answer, they are ignoring the evidence to the contrary under their own noses.  So, well meant and needed, but possibly a toothless policy relying too heavily and unquestioningly on the promises of metering technology, which is usually compromised by ingrained and chronic shortcomings in installation and commissioning.’

Tom Dollard, head of sustainability, Pollard Thomas Edwards
‘This sort of clear, simple legislation is exactly what is needed to improve our existing building stock and will certainly boost the market in this sector. The legislation will boost the Green Deal take up, which has not been popular to date, and it will encourage landlords to engage with fuel poverty saving tenants an average of £880 a year. However, the performance and success of these measures will be in the detail and could be derailed with some poor advice from energy consultants or suppliers using RdSAP as a crude energy model to obtain the EPC. The method of calculating an EPC is crude and open to abuse, which can lead to inaccurate results. Landlords can potentially re-calculate with different parameters to boost the score up to an E rating. This loophole needs to be closed to ensure this legislation delivers real performance.

‘Most of the new work will go to energy consultants and contractors who work in this field. However, they may be a small uplift in clients employing architects to provide an extension or fit-out at the same time. The uplift in new build as a result may be interesting.

‘This legislation will encourage developers to demolish and re-build instead of refurbish. As long as historical and important buildings continue to be protected,  this is not necessarily a problem. It would be sensible to lower the rate of VAT on refurbishments at the same time in order to encourage the upgrading of existing buildings.’

Mark Siddall, principal, LEAP : Lovingly Engineered Architectural Process
‘Many buy-to-let landlords own just one or two properties. The changes in the law may mean that they will now sell the homes. This could result in property prices stalling. 

‘Those landlords that retain properties may undertake poorly conceived retrofits that fail to exploit the lifetime benefits. (This may be due to poor advice from consultants or short term thinking on their part.)

‘A two tier property market will develop. Those that are lower energy and those that need retrofit. In those regions where there is an over supply of commercial offices the worst performing buildings could sit vacant or be demolished. Business savvy landlord will review their portfolio may sell their weaker performing properties. Smart property developers will see the opportunity to buy property in a depressed poor performing market and to either retrofit the buildings, convert them to another use, or demolish and replace them.’ 

Fionn Stevenson, head of school, Sheffield School of Architecture
‘Generally I welcome the ethical proposal that landlords should be reponsible for ensuring that their buildings measure up in energy efficiency terms before renting them out. 

‘However, as ever, things are not quite so simple in reality. Unless there is appropriate resource made available to match this legislation, many buildings owned by cash or time strapped landlords (and yes, they do exist!) may just lie empty, with no money available to upgrade them.  It is also important that new legislation does not sledgehammer the fledgling ‘homesteading’ industry that has grown up around buildings that landlords cannot afford to upgrade, and which would otherwise simply lie empty and go to ruin. 

‘What we need is a more ecological approach to our building stock that allows for a wide diversity of building use, including short-term low rent options where ‘homesteaders’ agree to upgrade or maintain a building themselves  in exchange for low or no rent until the landlords are a position to upgrade themselves. Where legislation can help is to give an appropriate time limit within which the full upgrade should happen, but to allow other activities to happen on a ‘meanwhile’ basis. Here in Sheffield, our school is actively promoting ‘meanwhile’ use through our ‘LiveWorks’ initiative, occupying property that would otherwise remain empty.’

 

 

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