Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Blue flag beach dilemma?

Readers of this blog may know that one of my pet hates is conservation measures or departments which seem to spend all their time promoting development and extra construction. I have recently become aware of the criteria for the ‘blue flag’ awarded to clean beaches and this seems to fit the bill.

Ok. I like the fact that blue flag is a way of promoting clean beaches, and that they pay attention to things like recycling and sustainable transport. The problem is that they demand things like signs, bins, toilets, water supplies and disabled access. Dogs must be kept on a lead and camping must be restricted. While this may be absolutely fine for beaches that are already developed and decked out with facilities, where does it leave the rest? What if, for want of a better word, there is a wild beach? It will have no toilets, or bins, or signs, or water sources, but it might be clean, beautiful and a haven for wildlife.

In one sense there is no problem, the ‘wild’ beach simply won’t get listed. I suspect however that there is intense pressure on districts and councils to get blue flags, as many as possible. This may lead to well meaning local governments opening up ‘pristine’ beaches for development, potentially fatally undermining them.

I am all for water testing and schemes that put pressure on authorities to keep the landscape and oceans clean, but this must not be confused with branding, commercialisation and tourist development. In fact, the two should be kept as far apart as possible.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Power blocks?

Right now in London there is a slew of skyscrapers going up all over the place – each one purporting to be a new ‘green’ development. Some of these contain renewable energy, some efficiency measures. But just how green are they? Critics slate the environmental measures as meaningless greenwash, while others think they are exciting glimpses of the future.

Personally I think these new towers are broadly positive. Okay, as with everything it would be greenest if they were never built at all, but assuming that they must be constructed, how have they done?

One of the most high profile of the new towers is the 42-storey Strata in South London which comes complete with three building integrated 19 kW wind turbines – the world’s first. These are expected to produce around 8% of the building’s electricity, or 50 MWh. Critics have been quick to point out the poor record of urban wind, and condemn the turbines as a gimmick. This would certainly be the case if the developers had made no effort to improve efficiency, but actually things aren’t too bad on that front, with the flats as a whole expected to produce 13% less CO2 than the required standards. As to the efficiency of the turbines, the height of the building and the clean air around it should give them the best chance of generating meaningful energy.

Similarly, the new under-construction Heron tower in the financial district has over 200 kW of building integrated PV on the south side. As with the Strata, architectural opinion

is mixed, but the building was recently awarded an ‘excellent’ by the BREEAM rating system. Aside from the PV, the building uses a multi-layered skin (like the Gherkin building) to minimise heat build up and reduce cooling loads.

Finally, just down the road from the Heron Tower is the just started Bishopsgate Tower. Again once complete this building will contain more than 200 kW of PV, as well as double layered skin to reduce heating and cooling costs. Interestingly the whole building will have only 6 parking places, for more than 8000 workers.

So what do we make of these developments? Personally, I am positive. Yes, there is far far more that needs to be done, but these buildings are positive in a number of ways. First they help to normalise renewables and green design, providing high profile examples of renewables in the city. The energy efficiency measures are the quiet side of this, hopefully ensuring the renewables are not purely cosmetic. Finally, they are a first step, and first steps matter.

Lib-Con environment policies

So we now have a broad outline of the environment policies from the new Liberal Democrat - Conservative coalition in the UK. Nothing too surprising in there, as most of this was already on the table in some form or another. Good to see a committment to a green bank and banded ROCs, but I think that would have happened anyway. Also good to see that the Tories did not get to overturn Ed Milibands rule that any new coal plants must integrate carbon capture and storage. A fair amount of it is also very vague (measure to encourage marine energy?) and improve biodiverdity (?) but at least it is in there.

The only thing that disturbs me a little is that there is no mention of the Marine Bill or the urgent need to establish an extensive network of marine protected areas.. let us hope that this is an oversight, and not a reflection of the coalition's reliance on coastal constituencies in the South-west, North East and Wales....