Sustainable energy and heritage buildings

Report for Historic England seeks to join up the policy-making process

17 November 2017

A study we authored - The Sustainable Use of Energy in Traditional Dwellings: Legislation, Policy and Decision Making – has been published by Historic England.

Written principally for the benefit of local authority officers it covers the issue of policy-making within the context of sustainable energy and heritage assets.

It takes the slightly serious form of a Conservation Research Report, but the subject is far from dry. At it's heart is the dilemma of how to protect the historic environment while at the same time reducing carbon emissions and allowing people to make their homes warmer and cheaper to heat.

It's a dilemma faced by every local authority in the country.

"Naturally, conservation officers tend to be experts in heritage and conservation legislation and policy," said CSE's Martin Holley who manages CSE’s work with Historic England and other conservation bodies.

"But they may have only limited knowledge of the local authority's wider statutory duties, such as those relating to climate change, energy and housing.

"Similarly, council staff in the sustainability or housing departments probably don't have a good understanding of planning and conservation legislation, or have the skills to really assess what makes a building historically significant, so when they propose measures to improve energy efficiency, they’re not necessarily taking into account the specific heritage values of the building."

It's clear, therefore, that there are tensions across local authority statutory duties, and that these play out on the ground in daily decision-making. There is a danger that one legislative responsibility overshadows the other, so local authorities may under-perform in some of their duties or give contradictory advice to the public when asked for advice on improving energy efficiency.

Sometimes this leads to work being carried out that irreversibly damages the historic significance of a particular building, or even an entire street.  On the other hand, there are many examples of energy efficiency works to older buildings being refused consent, leaving residents dealing with cold homes and high bills, but with no support for finding an appropriate alternative solution.

"What this means," said Martin, "is that a joined-up approach between different council departments – principally housing, planning, conservation and sustainability – is necessary, and that is what our report hopefully provides."

Photo: A R Driver, reproduced under creative commons

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