REUTERS | Paulo Whitaker

Existing buildings are inefficient, so should we demolish?

Question: What do Paul Morrell and Sir John Betjeman have in common?

Answer: They might both like to demolish Slough town centre.

The poet famously said:

“Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!”

In an interview with the Times, the chief construction adviser said:

“In the Sixties, everything was built cheaper, faster and nastier. If you are going to try to fix buildings, then really you won’t have too many problems with anything built earlier than the Fifties or after the Eighties.

Although you can do some things to buildings from the Sixties and Seventies, like replacing the roofs, there are probably some places that need to come down entirely.”

Mr Morrell aludes to the difficulties in choosing between a refurbishment and a new build, starting from scratch. The Times’ article refers to developers, such as Land Securities, having to make a finely balanced choice between refurbishment and new build. As Francis Salway, the chief executive of Land Securities said:

“It is generally cheaper to refurbish, rather than redevelop, but sometimes the numbers come out surprisingly close. Refurbishing is sometimes more complex and less effective than starting from scratch.”

Although we have highlighted the chief construction adviser’s comments in a light-hearted way, the Climate Change Act 2008 requires an 80% greenhouse gas emission reduction (based on 1990 levels) by 2050, and the built environment seriously needs to adapt.

In this context, Mr Morrell needs to keep speaking plainly to influence Government policy; these targets affect the construction industry and the existing built environment.

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