PlanLoCaL: Low Carbon Bath

Preserving heritage and tackling climate change are not mutually exclusive

Project duration: July 2011 to June 2012

Low-Carbon Bath wins the Royal Town Planning Institute’s Sustainable Communities award for 2011 at the RTPI's National Planning Awards.

How does a beautiful city like Bath, known around the world for its historic and cultural importance (and a designated World Heritage Site to boot), retain the integrity of its architectural gems while at the same time bringing them up to 21st-century standards of energy efficiency?

This is the issue at the heart of Low Carbon Bath, a project managed by CSE in partnership with the Bath Preservation Trust and supported by Bath and North East Somerset council.

Feelings on this issue run high. Some argue that no changes at all to the fabric of the city’s architectural heritage should be allowed, whilst others point out that buildings and settlements have always adapted to change, that many of Bath’s listed buildings are uncomfortably cold and expensive to maintain, and that the city cannot consider itself a special case when it comes to tackling carbon emissions.

Low-Carbon Bath aimed to find common ground and a way forward.

Will Anderson led the project for CSE. “National targets commit the UK to reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, and Bath is not exempt from this. It is critical that the city looks at how it can make its contribution.”

What do the people of Bath think?

The first step in the process was a series of focus groups in which various stakeholders were invited to share their views. Special events were held for preservation, conservation and green groups, developers and landowners, planners, young people and residents in general.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the general consensus is that efforts should be made to mitigate climate change through improvements to Bath's homes and public buildings whilst at the same time protecting the city’s unique heritage.

More interestingly, participants in the consultation also identified the need for clearer policy and guidance on what changes are both possible and effective in traditional homes in Bath. This included a wish for greater flexibility in the interpretation of Bath’s existing conservation guidelines.

You can read more about the consultation process here, and download a report of the consultation exercise here.

The consultation was widened at the beginning of 2011 with an online survey that explored people’s views on what kinds of low-carbon improvements to the building fabric should be permissible on Bath’s most protected buildings. It included issues such as double glazing, ventilation, draft-proofing, insulation, heating systems and solar panels.

Perhaps the most striking finding was that more than three quarters of people who live in listed buildings in Bath say they feel the cold in the winter, and almost half of these people are much colder than they want to be – four times the rate among Bath residents that live in unlisted buildings.

Will Anderson, who managed the project for CSE said that “the results show that there are indeed a lot of people living in Bath’s listed buildings that feel the effects of our long, cold winters much more than they need to.

“Whilst the results demonstrate that local people want to protect the city they love, they also want to live there in comfort – and it’s clearly not acceptable in this day and age that so many people are going cold in listed buildings in the city.”

You can read more about the survey here, and download a copy of the survey findings here.

Warmer Bath

The final step in the project was the publication in June 2011 of draft guidance that brings together all the learning so far and can inform the work of the city’s conservation officers.

The 76-page book is called 'Warmer Bath' and you can download a copy here.

The council is already including recommendations from the book in its forthcoming policy document on sustainable retrofit, making this project a fine exemplar of neighbourhood-led planning for other local authorities.

In due course and after further consultation, the guidance may be formalised as local policy and/or proposed as a Supplementary Planning Document.

The Bath Preservation Trust also hope to present the project process and outcomes to UNESCO as a model for reaching community consensus on climate change and heritage in other World Heritage cities.

Low-Carbon Bath is part of PlanLoCaL

Relevant downloads and links:

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