Buildings Writing Group lays firm foundation

The first meeting of the Manchester Climate Change Action Plan Buildings Writing Group [or MCCAPBWG to absolutely no-one] met on Friday 24th in Committee Rm 4 in the Town Hall. Twenty or so experts and enthusiasts gathered there, looked down upon by the portraits of eminent councillors of the past. This group is one of five which together will create a plan that will lead to a reduction of at least one million tonnes of CO2 from the city’s footprint by 2020. Quite apart from this startling target, the deadline for completion of the plan is Mid October (yes, this year) and is if that wasn’t enough – the process is a collaborative one. Someone involved in the process was heard to say that he didn’t know whether to be exhilarated or horrified.

The meeting was facilitated by the consultants Countryscape, and scribed by members of the Council’s Green City Team. Context was given by the Town Hall’s new Director of Environmental Strategy, Richard Sharland, and the 100 Months Club’s Phil Korbel was appointed as Chair of the group.

Before getting down to some serious brain dumping, the group considered the role of climate change adaptation within the action plan. The Bruntwood representative told the group that that was at the heart of the major ‘Eco Cities’ initiative that they were funding, and that for a major commercial property owner to ignore adaptation would be against their and their tenants’ interests. Charlie Baker (Urbed) retorted that to ignore mitigation would be abdicating the city’s responsibilities to those people in the developing world who were already affected by climate change. Between these poles a form of consensus was reached – acknowledging that some degree of climate change is inevitable, that building owners and users need a reason to change their behaviour (and adaptation was a tangible expression of that) but that too great an emphasis on adaptation would imply to the public that climate change was somehow easy to deal with. It was also recognised that there will be many occasions where the two will overlap – with ‘green roofs’ being seen as a prime example.

Phil Korbel attempted to give some ‘steer’ to the proceedings by saying that the big wins were in building refurbishment (as opposed to new build) and that the group should divide its thoughts between what can be done to the fabric of buildings and what can be done to change the way people use them. The Carbon Trust representative also alerted the group to the need to include waste and water usage as vital means to tackle the climate change impacts of buildings. Jon Lovell from Drivers Jonas (property experts) also told the group that they have been commissioned by the Council to suggest actions around the city’s commercial property stock, which might make that side of the group’s work easier.

The bulk of the meeting was taken up with the participants creating a mass of objectives and actions, which are to be edited and prioritised in future meetings. There was a real sense of ‘knuckling down’ to the task, and all those present, whether Council officers, sustainability experts, campaigners or property specialists seemed happy to share their thoughts in a refreshingly open way.

Some of the perceived blocks included the lack of baseline data (e.g. how much CO2 is produced by the Commercial and Residential property sectors (a clear overview of who’s doing what) and where the money is likely to come from. But set against these obstacles is the stated task (by Richard Leese amongst others) that at this stage the groups must be aspirational – come up with the best ideas and then the funding issue will be addressed.

The meeting came to a close with a long list of objectives and some actions being detailed against them but it will be the next meeting (mid August) where some shape starts to form around this vital area of decreasing the city’s carbon footprint. Between now and then, further discussions between the group members will take place on line once the meeting’s findings are published.

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