Monthly Archives: March 2013

Climate Change and Manchester, how can commercial buildings perform better? – “governments talk, cities act” #MACF2013

Governments talk, cities act” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, quoted with approval by Sir Richard Leese, Leader, Manchester City Council yesterday at the MACF event yesterday.

MACF is Manchester: A Certain Future and brings together an effective change-based partnership of people from a mix of politics, business, community, arts, education, faith and public bodies to develop and enact changes within Manchester that will urgently push down the city’s CO2 emissions.

The event yesterday was a stock-take on progress since 2009 and workshops to explore the “next big things” that the city can achieve together.

One area where the city does need to make further progress, and quickly, is in reducing the energy use of our commercial buildings. In the discussions it was noted that the energy costs are a small fraction of occupation costs, especially in the city centre where rent plus all charges may be up to £50 per square foot, whereas the energy costs may be less than £2 of this.

The downside is that it is sometimes hard to make a financial case on such a small margin, was the feeling of the key property people present.

However, a possible upside is that the risks of financial loss are therefore also small. If this was a costed PR project rather than a costed energy-saving project, the cost/benefits would be highly attractive when compared with other PR options.

The trick could well be to obtain the PR return on investment as a result, and one approach here is to have a DEC – display energy certificate – in the lobby or even better in the front window, to show competitors and attract responsible customers.

Having good evidence is key to making city-change work to its best effect. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also said that, “On the US dollar note it says ‘In God we trust’, however everybody else has to bring data.”

UK Housebuilding needs to grow much more, or risk becoming overtaken by “flat pack” imported homes.

This week has seen four of the UK’s major housebuilding companies publish their annual reports and accounts. One has just been sold to a USA hedge fund. The business press has been kind to the companies, mostly because they have returned to profit and can pay a dividend again.
But at a price. 2012 was the third-lowest year for building new houses in the UK since 1947. All the companies have massively scaled back their volume of work in the UK, though some are still strong in the Arab states. Mostly the companies have shed many staff, are now building mainly small numbers of higher-value properties and then only south of Cambridge. To remain profitable the companies have had to become smaller niche builders.
This is bad news for the UK economy and for growing families. If this collapse continues we risk housebuilding going the same way as the manufacturing sector – local decline followed by growing imports.
To date the idea of importing new houses has seemed too daft to seriously consider. However, with modern methods of construction including 2D panels and 3D modules made by offsite manufacturing, as is already commonplace in Germany and elsewhere, it will only seem a daft business idea until the new profits start to roll in. Singapore could well become the UK’s volume housebuilder.