Climate change: Construction companies told to stop knocking down buildings

Britain’s top engineers are urging the government to stop buildings being demolished.

By Roger Harrabin

Making bricks and steel creates vast amounts of CO2, with cement alone causing 8% of global emissions.

They say the construction industry should where possible re-use buildings, employ more recycled material, and use machinery powered by clean fuels.

They are concerned about “embodied emissions”, which is the CO2 emitted when buildings and materials are made..

They believe that unlike carbon from aircraft, vehicles and gas boilers, embodied emissions are not in people’s minds.

They suspect few people realise there’s a carbon impact from, for instance, building a home extension.

The report, steered by the Royal Academy of Engineering, said a new way of thinking is needed before planning new homes, factories, roads and bridges.

Prof Rebecca Lunn from Strathclyde University, one of the report’s authors, said: “Our biggest failure is that we build buildings, then we knock them down and throw them away. We must stop doing this.”

Fellow author, Mike Crook, adjunct professor at Imperial College, challenged the government’s £27bn road-building programme because of the embodied emissions created to obtain the concrete and tarmac, as well as the use of very polluting machines to construct the highways.

Prof Crook told BBC News: “We have to radically revise the way we look at things.

“The most important thing is to maximise the use of existing road infrastructure by using smart motorways to maximise every inch of tarmac.”

Speaking in a personal capacity, he added that the decision on Heathrow expansion should be re-visited following stronger warnings from climate scientists.

Prof Crook said questions should be asked whether projects such as HS2 – with its massive embodied carbon – will really benefit future generations.

media captionClimate change: Should we be demolishing buildings?

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers’ Dr Julie Godefroy urged the government to set targets for the construction industry to move swiftly towards zero carbon, including embodied emissions.

She observed: “We have to avoid demolition and new-build. Often most of the material in an existing building is underground – so we should seek to use existing foundations.”

media captionAbout 88kg of explosives were used to reduce the tower to 10,000 tonnes of debris

A spokesperson for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) responded to a request from BBC News for a comment by stating that the UK was a “world leader in tackling climate change”.

They added: “We are committed to reducing emissions from the construction sector, and have set up the Construct Zero programme to support the industry to achieve their climate commitments.”

The spokesperson said that the government, earlier this year, had set out their Industrial Decarbonisation Strategy, which was “the government’s comprehensive assessment” of how industry, including the construction sector, could decarbonise in line with the government’s net-zero plans.

Also, they explained, ministers this week had announced £220 million of funding to help UK industry reduce their carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency.

Refurb over rebuild

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) estimates that 35% of the lifecycle carbon from a typical office development is emitted before the building is even opened. The figure for residential premises is 51%.

It wants the government to change the VAT rules which can make it cheaper to rebuild than to refurbish a standing building.

Its managing editor Will Hurst said: “This staggering fact has only been properly grasped in the construction industry relatively recently. We’ve got to stop mindlessly pulling buildings down.”

Covid impact on life expectancy in Devon shown

Life expectancy has risen in Devon, despite the impact of the pandemic causing stalling and falling levels across much of the UK.

Edward Oldfield

Figures released by the Officer for National Statistics (ONS) show that for men in the area, life expectancy at birth was 80.7 years in 2018 to 2020 – up from 80.4 years in 2015 to 2017 – a rise of 14 weeks.

For women, it rose by 22.4 weeks, taking life expectancy at birth from 84.2 years in 2015 to 2017 to 84.6 years in 2018 to 2020, although the rise was not seen in all parts of the area.

Life expectancy in Torbay has fallen – life expectancy at birth for men was 78.6 years in 2018 to 2020, down from 78.7 years in 2015 to 2017.

For women, life expectancy at birth fell from 82.8 years in 2015 to 2017 to 82.5 years in 2018 to 2020.

Life expectancy also fell for men in Plymouth, down from 79.0 years in 2015 to 2017 to 78.8 years in 2018 to 2020.

However, for women, it rose from 82.2 years in 2015 to 2017, to 82.5 years in 2018 to 2020.

The figures released this morning by the ONS are the first to include higher death rates seen in 2020 due to coronavirus.

Life expectancy at birth in the UK in 2018 to 2020 was 79.0 years for men and 82.9 years for women.

Compared to 2015 to 2017, that was seven weeks less for men, and almost no change for women (a slight increase of 0.5 weeks).

Pamela Cobb, Centre for Ageing and Demography at the ONS, said the coronavirus pandemic led to a greater number of deaths than normal in 2020, leading to virtually no improvement in life expectancy for women and life expectancy for men falling back to levels reported for 2012 to 2014.

She said: “Life expectancy has increased in the UK over the last 40 years, albeit at a slower pace in the last decade.

“This is the first time we have seen a decline when comparing non-overlapping time periods since the series began in the early 1980s.

“These estimates rely on the assumption that current levels of mortality, which are unusually high, will continue for the rest of someone’s life.

“Once the coronavirus pandemic has ended and its consequences for future mortality are known, it is possible that life expectancy will return to an improving trend in the future.”

Life expectancy for those aged 65 years was another 18.5 years for men and 21.0 years for women.

These estimates are very similar to those for 2015 to 2017, with a slight decline of a week for men and an increase of 3.1 weeks for women.

Male life expectancy between 2018 and 2020 was highest in the South East (80.6 years) and lowest in Scotland (76.8 years), with a similar pattern for women, with the highest levels in London (84.3 years) and lowest in Scotland (81.0 years).

The impact of reduced life expectancy – like the impact of the pandemic – varied across the country.

There were significant reductions in male life expectancy at birth in England (7.8 weeks) and Scotland (11.0 weeks) in 2018 to 2020 compared with 2015 to 2017.

In Wales, male and female life expectancy at birth saw non-significant reductions between the same periods.

There were large falls in male life expectancy at birth in the North East (16.7 weeks) and Yorkshire and The Humber (16.2 weeks).

For women, it significantly reduced in the West Midlands (9.9 weeks).

Meanwhile, the South West saw a significant increase in life expectancy for women (17.7 weeks) and an increase in male life expectancy (5.7 weeks).

The continued improvement in life expectancy observed in the South West coincides with lower excess deaths and lower mortality involving Covid-19,compared with other regions of England.

See online DevonLive article for detailed data tabulation.

Woman ordered to apologise for saving trees

“Woman” in this case is Councillor Jess Bailey, and this is leafy West End West Hill and Aylesbeare ward. Since this is next to Ottery St Mary, Owl is surprised the monitoring officer did not order her to be “Tarred and Feathered”!

Daniel Clark

A councillor has been ordered to make a public apology for stopping trees being cut down.

Cllr Jess Bailey, who represents West Hill and Aylesbeare on East Devon District Council, had stood on a public verge under an oak and beech tree and then parked her car under them in January 2021 when a developer attempted to cut them down.

Her actions protected the trees until a Council tree officer attended and served a Tree Preservation Order on them.

But property developer Robert Compton had complained about her actions, and a standards investigation carried out in Cllr Bailey’s actions upheld a complaint that she did not conduct herself in a manner or behave in such a way so as to give a reasonable person the impression that you have brought the office or the Council into disrepute.

As a result of not following the police request to leave the scene, Cllr Bailey has been directed to make a public apology – but she has said that she was doing what she thought was right and in the interests of the community she was elected to represent.

The incident happened on Saturday, January 16, 2021, during England’s third national lockdown, and because she introduced herself when she arrived as the councillor for West Hill, it was accepted that she was acting as a councillor and not a private individual at the time.

Jess Bailey in front of the protection oak and beech tree iN West Hill

Jess Bailey in front of the protection oak and beech tree in West Hill (Image: Jess Bailey)

Cllr Bailey said: “I started to receive worried phone calls from residents, I quickly went to Oak Road, West Hill to see what was happening. The woodland village of West Hill has been blighted by developers pre-emptively felling trees over the years and I am always concerned about this controversial practice. It particularly worried me that this felling was happening on a Saturday during lockdown.

“A large birch had already been felled and an oak and beech were soon to be removed. These formed part of a highly prized avenue of trees formally recognised as a ‘valued view’ by the community in the Ottery St Mary and West Hill Neighbourhood Plan, a planning document which has been voted on by residents.”

She added: “Despite my best efforts and a series of frantic phone calls to Council officials I could not get a tree officer to attend at the time to protect the trees. The Council has in the past declined to protect these very trees with a TPO on the basis that they were not under immediate threat. Yet on the day when the trees were under immediate threat no one from the Council was available to protect them.

“I was at a loss to know what to do and therefore felt I had to take direct action to save the trees. I was determined to save the wonderful trees and so I stood on the public verge underneath them which prevented further work. I was not alone in being concerned about what was happening – other residents were equally dismayed.

“I have the utmost respect for the police who I’m certain were only trying to do their best in the difficult situation that was lockdown. They were however unclear on their power to send me home – which was not surprising given the constantly changing rules and laws at this time. I believed (and still believe) that I was lawfully present within lockdown rules.

“When talking to the police I felt hugely conflicted between staying to protect the trees and leaving as the police indicated I should. After a while of engaging and explaining their views to me the police became more insistent that I should leave or I would be issued with a Covid fine if I did not. I duly left and went home without any fine being issued. When I left, my car remained parked for the weekend on the verge, still under the trees.”

The oak and beech tree in West Hill protected by Cllr Jess Bailey

The oak and beech tree in West Hill protected by Cllr Jess Bailey (Image: Jess Bailey)

Cllr Bailey added: “As a result of my actions the trees are still standing, and had I not taken the action I did – including not leaving immediately on the arrival of the police – I have no doubt the trees in question, and possibly others, would have been removed.

“It is incredibly common for developers to suddenly fell beautiful and mature trees to make way for development and in most instances no one can do anything about it. This time because of my intervention I am pleased that a mature oak and beech that form part of a beautiful avenue of trees were retained.”

The report of East Devon District Council’s monitoring officer dismissed the majority of the complaints made by Mr Compton, saying that taking videos / photos of the scene is not a breach of the code of conduct and would not be generally unacceptable, nor was requesting a TPO.

And he said that while unpalatable to some and of course to the complainant, he did not consider that her behaviour, where she stood under one of the trees to prevent it being felled and organised for a car to be parked under the tree for the same purpose, from an objective standard, was sufficient to amount to causing disrepute to the role of councillor or to the Council.

The report said: “The land in question is public highway and had the complainant wished to prevent anyone from exercising their lawful right to ‘use’ the highway when the works were to be undertaken, then there are mechanisms to secure a temporary suspension of those rights which would have precluded anyone from being able to stop the works in the way that happened.”

But the report did conclude that as a councillor, not leaving when requested to do so by the Police, who were concerned from a Covid and unauthorised gatherings perspective, particularly given the sensitivities and concerns around Covid, does not set a good example to others in terms of respecting authority and would reduce public confidence in the role of councillor.

It said: “I consider that this conduct and behaviour is such that it would give a reasonable person the impression that Cllr Bailey has brought her office into disrepute and as such is a breach of the code of conduct.”

Cllr Bailey said: “I am disappointed that the Monitoring Officer has found me to have ‘brought the office of councillor into disrepute’, when trying to protect trees. I was doing what I thought was right and in the interests of the community I have been elected to represent.”