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Nottingham's carbon-neutral plan requires clarity, agrees expert panel

The first in a series of our 'Simplify Sustainability' regional roundtables took place in Nottingham in October 2022. A 14-strong panel discussed a range of subjects, including the estates of influential local organisations, what it will take for everybody to truly support the drive for lower carbon emissions, and finding a solution for unregulated energy.

Nottingham - the first carbon-neutral city in England by 2028?

Nottingham has a real opportunity to become the first carbon-neutral city in England by 2028 but only through greater collaboration, universal standards and clearer guidance, according to the panel of built environment experts we brought together.

The panel included: Nick Gibb, Jo Mills and Ed Reynolds of Willmott Dixon, Hugh Avison and Nick Gregory of CPMG Architects, Umesh Desai from Nottingham Trent University, Gary McGinty at Nottingham College, Alex Jones from Chord Consult, Joanne Murray of Gleeds, Chris Clarke at Scape, Matthew Hannah from Innes England, Peter Conboy of Igloo Regeneration and Peter McAnespie from Nottingham City Council.

Nick Gibb, deputy managing director for the Midlands at Willmott Dixon, said:

“At Willmott Dixon our years of experience and relationship building enable us to hold progressive conversations with some of the most important regional stakeholders across the country through events such as roundtables.
“In Nottingham, ambitious plans to become the first carbon-neutral city in England fill us with excitement and belief that those with influence have their priorities in the right place. That said, as an industry, design and build capability will only go so far and while we’re doing everything we can to combine the efforts of different disciplines, one of the most important takeaways from our recent roundtable was that there is a definitive performance gap with new buildings.
“The public and private sectors need to come together and lead the way in educating on energy usage. While influential institutions like colleges and universities can create holistic estates strategies to ensure their building stock is performing as efficiently as possible, it’s imperative that they do so now and not later. Meanwhile, the construction industry needs to rewrite the rule book and ensure that everything we hand over is above and beyond the current standards – which can definitely go further.”

The roundtable saw scientific explanations collide with impassioned references to historic changes – specifically regarding the 1980s changes to health and safety practices as evidence of revolutionary change. The discussion sought to establish a way in which to move forward that will ensure people will not look backwards and focus on the things that were not done.

With the variety of energy efficiency standards such as BREAAM and EPC within the property and construction industry, the panel considered whether these are having the impact intended. At a time when parking provisions are more likely to be a key condition within a planning application than sustainability statements, there was great debate during the roundtable over how to move forward with a consistent approach.

Umesh Desai, director of estates at Nottingham Trent University, said:

“I think that one of the challenges of estates management, in relation to sustainability, is the ever-changing needs of users. At the university, we’re proud to offer state-of-the-art facilities to our students and have a mix of new and existing buildings, but the way forward must be focused on showing that fit-for-purpose and sustainable are more important than fit-for-purpose and eye-catching. We aim to be carbon neutral by 2040 and will be voicing our advice on lowering individual carbon footprint every step of the way.”

Joining Umesh at the event was Gary McGinty, director of estates at Nottingham College. He spoke about the college’s aim to become carbon neutral by 2030 – proving the shared goal to become carbon neutral despite differing timescales.

Joanne Murray, executive consultant at Gleeds, said:

“It’s important to remember that - as an industry - we are providing solutions for opposing client priorities, such as sustainable development and low-cost housing for example. This makes it very difficult for all organisations to be working towards carbon neutrality at the same pace.
“With this challenge in mind, engagement with the public sector and across the private sector is critical. Professionals must use their voice though and not be afraid of being held accountable. Sometimes all that’s needed is the courage to say we don’t need that new building and the expertise to share a refurbishment plan.”

You can hear more from some of our roundtable guests in this short video.

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