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Says JLL's UK sustainability experts
Over two months in to his first term at City Hall and with Brexit dominating the political agenda, London mayor Sadiq Khan is facing calls to make good on his pledge to be the capital's ’greenest mayor ever’. Environmental priorities have never been such a big part of a mayoral plan, so let’s look at the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead, not least in the built environment.
The constraints of central government policy
As part of its austerity drive, the UK government had already shelved initiatives for building zero carbon homes and cut renewables subsidies so it is important to acknowledge that there are central government policies that are out of Khan's control. Then, last month, the UK made a decision to vote out of the EU.
So what happens now to EU-originated renewables targets, energy efficiency rules, recycling goals, air quality standards, biodiversity protections, and carbon prices? No one knows for certain, although Amber Rudd MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, made a strong public statement to the business community that the UK will not step back from its carbon reduction trajectory. And of course, there is an exit from the EU – “the Norway option” - which could strengthen the UK's green economy, keeping, the best European legislation, whilst providing more freedom to foster innovation. Khan has been pushing for a seat at the negotiating table with the EU and for greater autonomy for London over these key issues and in the wake of Brexit, will no doubt push harder.
Cleaning up London’s air
London records some of the worst pollution levels in Europe. Khan has already come up with some bold ideas to tackle this, ranging from the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street - one of the worst places in Europe for nitrogen dioxide pollution - to creating a free parking space on every street for electric cars. However, much bolder action is needed on a host of fronts, and it’s clear that the property industry can play an important role, not least through cleaner construction practices, pollution capturing surfaces, green spaces, cycle routes and grouped deliveries. Positively, the New West End Company – representing the world’s largest retail destination – has just launched the first business-led air quality strategy, working with the Mayor’s office.
Sales of electric cars soar
Hundreds more Londoners are buying electric cars as the scale of the Capital’s air pollution problem is laid bare. However, ownership is still low in the capital compared to Britain’s ‘shires’ where more people have off-street parking, and better access to charging points that can be easily installed in driveways. Fortunately, thousands more charging points are being installed under the Source London scheme, while London was also recently awarded £13 million from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles to prioritise ultra-low emission vehicles in several boroughs. Initiatives on trial include street lighting that doubles as charging points, and extra local privileges for plug-in car owners such as access to bus lanes and free parking. Khan can also help by increasing the number of electric buses operating in London. Four-out-of-five of London's buses are still diesels, polluting far more than the cleanest hybrid or electric buses.
Businesses and developers will play a key role too, by creating sufficient, cheap and secure charging facilities in workplaces and at new developments. This can make electric vehicles attractive when coupled with available tax breaks and concessions. Equally, cost-conscious developers can help by simply providing the electricity distribution network to which a charging point can later be added.
Air pollution detectors bring greater visibility to London citizens and businesses
Thanks to a new generation of portable air pollution detectors, you and I can now measure and map air pollution. Companies like TZOA and Tissot have developed wearable pollution detectors, which when paired with smartphones and watches, can inform users about the air they are breathing in real time, alerting them to move off polluted streets. Similar devices may have even more utility indoors. Internet-enabled devices like Inovu, Awair and Footbot that can measure temperature and humidity are growing in popularity. JLL is trialling this technology in its Central London office, where wireless air quality sensors help us understand how we can improve employee wellbeing and productivity, and how this technology can be deployed to properties we manage for others. Critical to this is ensuring that building level data is accurate, especially if it is used in future to attract occupiers.
Solar power lights the way
Central to Khan's green plans is solar energy. While it offers promise – London has the potential to up its solar capacity by 25 times its current volume –installing the necessary panels on many of the capital's buildings will not be easy. For example, the Capital’s many conservation areas are not particularly welcoming of solar PV while there is an abundance of rented accommodation and tall buildings with a shadowing effect. . Planning rules can play an important role in driving solar adoption, but these alone are unlikely to be enough. Photovoltaic cells on TfL properties and public land are more realistic. Solar facelifts at Blackfriars and King's Cross stations, where panels have been incorporated into new roofs, have already cut London's CO2 emissions by 600 tons according to Network Rail. Meanwhile, solar has already been incorporated in some of London's newest towers such as the Salesforce Tower, where solar cells in laminated glass windows generate 92.5 MWh of energy a year.
Local authorities and housing associations in London are also playing their part. Associations like Peabody, Catalyst and Family Mosaic have installed renewable energy on new developments and the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s Barnfield Estate is one of a number of local authority estates undergoing an energy retrofit. Perhaps Khan could go further and copy Paris which has decided that all new buildings must have rooftop solar installed.
In conclusion, there are numerous challenges to be overcome before Khan can deliver on his ambitions, but a mayor with a vision, is an excellent start. Khan knows that London has the potential to be one of the first cities to fully address the climate crisis. But it is going to take a lot more than solar panels to really make a difference.
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