Sustainable Building: Tackling the Climate Emergency

The Sustainable Built Environment Conference (24 September 2019) organised by Cardiff University and Cynnal Cymru, brought together climate change researchers, built environment professionals, policy experts and government officials to focus on the transition of energy and low carbon policies in practice. 

The key message from the conference was that we’re in a state of climate emergency.  It’s taken Greta Thumberg, a 16 year old from Sweden, to wake the world up to this issue with constant climate strikes and public speeches calling people to take action.

The Paris Agreement signed in 2016 sought to encourage all 55 member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to plan to limit the increase in temperature to 1.50C above pre-industrial levels by 2030, with the aim of being net zero increase by 2050.

Keith Clarke CBE commented that, on a global scale as the population increases and more people become middle class, more energy will be consumed.  The way we’re heading is for an increase in temperature by 40C by 2050.  We need to recognise that social equality is a human right, but at the same time there is a need to decarbonise to enable this.

He emphasised that this emergency is no longer about our grandchildren, it affects everyone and it’s happening quickly.  So we need to take action.  The Future is NOW. We need to do everything possible to ensure less energy is used in buildings and infrastructure as well as taking action to encourage biodiversity.

Keith used the analogy of the ‘Scottish Reel Dance’ where everyone joins hands, moves quickly and do things that you haven’t done before.  This is how we need to act FAST.  We need to change mindsets, not be afraid to make mistakes and take action.

So what action is being taken by professionals in the built environment?

In Wales, the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act gives us the ambition, permission and legal obligation to improve our social, cultural, environmental and economic wellbeing by taking action in accordance with the sustainable development principles.   Dr Eurgain Powell, Change Maker at the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, explained about the 7 wellbeing goals and 5 ways of working enabling us to look at prosperity differently, to ensure we retain a habitable earth for all future generations. The publication ‘Constructing for Future Generations’ sets out how the construction industry must change if it is to deliver a built environment fit for future generations.  Failing to adapt is not an option.

Professor Phil Jones, Chair of Architectural Science at Cardiff University commented that there is a disconnect between research and practice. He called for action to be taken and the need for top down pressure from government as well as a bottom up pressure of promoting best practice. 

We need to ensure that our new homes are zero carbon and affordable to ensure energy is reduced, balanced and generated.  The Welsh Government is encouraging new approaches to meet the shortfall of housing provision and the climate emergency with the Innovative Housing Programme (IHP). 

Grasshopper Communications is working with Sero Homes on the development of Parc Hadau, 35 zero carbon homes near Pontardawe in the Neath Valley that has received IHP funding.  This development is not just about creating homes, but creating a place where the community and nature work together.  The scheme is currently undertaking its pre application consultation prior to submission of outline planning application later in the year.  The feedback from residents has been very positive, with one local saying ‘We dream of living in such amazing houses”, preferring to swap their traditional house for a home that will reduce their energy bills and live in an environment that encourages nature to flourish. 

We need to create sustainable liveable communities of the future that meet the immediate climate emergency and we at Grasshopper Communications believe that these zero carbon developments could become the norm. 


Hannah Dineen, Associate Director at Grasshopper Communications

The conference was part of the Internal Sustainable Built Environment (SBE) Conference that has been running for 18 years.

Mark Drakeford wins the Welsh Labour Leadership election with a promise of 21st Century Socialism

Welsh Labour 2.jpg

The result from the last few months of hustings, campaigning and policy promises came to a head this week, and as expected, Mark Drakeford secured victory as the new Leader of the Welsh Labour Party.

The Cardiff West AM took 46.9% of first preference votes, while his opposition candidates, Vaughan Gething and Baroness Morgan took 30.8% and 22.3% respectively. With no candidate reaching 50%, Baroness Morgan was eliminated and second-preference votes of her supporters were redistributed. In the final totals, Prof Drakeford beat Mr Gething by 53.9% to 41.4%.

After nine years as First Minister, Carwyn Jones will stand down following his final First Minister Questions on Tuesday, with Prof Drakeford expected to be confirmed as First Minister on Wednesday.

Prof Drakeford has represented the Cardiff West Assembly constituency since 2011, holding a number of prominent positions within Welsh Government during that period, including his current role as Cabinet Secretary for Finance.

Drawing on his experience working under former First Minister Rhodri Morgan as well as his commitment to Jeremy Corbyn, Prof Drakeford launched a comprehensive leadership manifesto last month entitled ‘21st Century Socialism’ setting out his key policy objectives.

So what does this mean for the future of Wales? Will we see the beginning of a 21st century socialism - or will it be business as usual for Welsh Labour?

From a planning, regeneration and infrastructure perspective, there are a number of key policy commitments of interest that could have significant future impacts:

·       Energy: Prof Drakeford has proposed a large surge in Wales’ relationship with renewable and sustainable energy. In his manifesto he outlines that investment in renewable energy must be seen as a bid to boost the Welsh economy, adding that Wales must make use of the abundance of wind, water and waves available.   His pledges include re-examining the case for a new Welsh Energy Mutual (based on the Welsh Water model), support for the Tidal Lagoon project, as well as setting up an independent commission to advise on nuclear power.

·       Housing and Regeneration: Prof Drakeford has stated that he would appoint a Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for housing and allied matters, allowing housing to be represented at the top table. He adds to this that he would press ahead with plans for a vacant land tax, tackling land banking and allowing for the release of land for housing and regeneration developments.  He has also committed to aligning housing and planning responsibilities, allowing councils to work together more flexibly across boundaries in a bid to provide the housing Welsh people need.

·       Transport and the M4 relief road: Prof Drakeford has expressed a strong desire to tackling M4 congestion in South Wales, although he is yet to commit to the M4 relief road – although this decision will now fall to him (and not Carwyn Jones as previously anticipated).  Additionally, Prof Drakeford claims that he would revise Planning Policy Wales to make provision of sustainable transport infrastructure a fundamental requirement for new development (PPW Edition 11 could be arriving sooner than expected).

There is no doubt that Prof Drakeford is a man of conviction who will be committed to following through on the pledges set out in his manifesto that has resulted in a strong election win.  He has clearly convinced Labour Party members he is the man to lead Wales, but he now needs to convince the wider population of Wales also, as he looks to roll out his manifesto commitments and steer Wales down, what could be, a bolder new path. 

For updates on all things politics, regeneration and infrastructure - please watch this space or follow us on Twitter at @Grasshopper_UK.

Let us start building a coaltion for change – exploring the Deep Place approach to economic renewal

This week saw the Regeneration Skills Collective host a seminar exploring the ‘Deep Place’ approach to sustainable community renewal. 

This research stems from the year-long Tredegar Deep Place study published in 2014 by Dave Adamson and Mark Lang for CREW (Regeneration Wales), looking at the development of more locally focused economic activity and how this could tackle problems of poverty and social exclusion in communities where mainstream economic policy traditionally have no impact.

It was fascinating to hear Dave Adamson explain in detail the work he is currently undertaking in developing the Deep Place approach in Australia, in particular a project in Logan - a satellite city of Brisbane with acute social exclusion and poverty issues.  Here the Deep Place plan is successfully linking into local programmes of social enterprise development and social procurement by local government.  It is also ensuring that the stock transfer of 4,800 homes maximises the local economic development opportunities. 

Adamson’s view is that the social housing sector is well placed to help lead and catalyse a Deep Place approach and establish a localised coalition for change.   Adamson expressed his disappointment at the lack of leadership seen to date from both central and local government within Wales, not necessarily due to a lack of interest, but rather a lack of appropriate resource, structure and leadership. 

The evening saw insightful responses from Calvin Jones (Professor of Economics, Cardiff Business School), Ben Cottam (Head of External Affairs Federation of Small Businesses Wales) and Anna McMorrin (Consultant on poverty and sustainability) who in particular provided an interesting perspective as a former Welsh Government Special Advisor around the structural restrictions and silo working within central government that makes this type of localised, cross portfolio, socioeconomic approach difficult to implement.

The lack of response within Wales to what is undoubtedly a well-considered study offering an alternative solution to an ongoing problem is no doubt disappointing.  However it struck me that really, this all links back to what many would argue is a need for a widespread culture change within society (not just in deprived areas), in terms of encouraging a more sustainable, local and healthier approach and culture to how we consume and live across the whole of Wales (in terms of sustainable energy generation, localised food production, care provision models etc). 

So maybe Welsh Government should not only be looking at Deep Place opportunities in key target regeneration areas, but leading the way to drive forward some of the key themes across Wales (some may argue the Future Generations Act signals the start of this).

The conclusion from the evening was that the opportunity for developing such a vision for Wales needs a serious and proactive response from the public, private and third sectors.  

It is clearly down to all of us who can see the potential of the Deep Place approach to take responsibility and help drive this agenda forward.

To find out more about the study click here to visit the CREW website.