Climate experts warn that property developers are building for the 1960s, not the 21st Century

Experts have told a conference on climate change that the planning, design and construction industries are risking billions of pounds of potential and avoidable damage if they continue to ignore the extreme weather events, higher temperatures and rainfall expected in the next 50 years.

Delegates from the worlds of planning, architecture, development and construction were warned of risks from not building houses with future climatic conditions in mind at the first major conference exploring climate change in building held in the Lowry art gallery in Salford on 31 May. According to Dr Chris Luebkeman, Director of Research and Development for Arup, the engineering and construction consultancy, many buildings are still being designed based on ideology and technology from the 1960s despite incredible recent knowledge on climate change.

The risks are uncertain, but significant, according to Dr Robin Spence, Director of Cambridge University’s Centre for Risk in the Built Environment, who said latest research has suggested that high winds, could cost £3-4 billion more in property damage for each major gale and subsidence caused by drier soils could cost an additional £400 million per year. However, increases in the likelihood of flooding are expected to financially dwarf all other considerations, delegates heard. At present, some 1.85 million homes, 185,000 commercial properties and five million people are at risk of flooding, but just last year an additional 20,000 homes were proposed in flood plain areas. In 1998, planners ignored Environment Agency flooding advice in 38% of cases.

Other likely effects on development, which are not currently addressed, include:

  • that modern housing, with chipboard floors, dry wall plasterboard and

    uPVC windows may be inappropriate to the future climate;

  • increased heat will result in cement drying more quickly, reducing working time and curing time with resulting structural weaknesses;
  • there will be increases in asphalt and road surfaces melting;
  • higher winds are likely to damage up to one million buildings in the UK at a cost of £1-2 billion each year;
  • the maintenance costs of roofs could increase by £2.5 billion each year; and
  • the impact of the changed weather on uPVC windows may cost up to £2.4 billion a year.

“There is compelling evidence that extreme weather events are increasing in frequency,” said Trevor Beattie, Corporate Strategy Director for English Partnerships, a body working for regeneration and development in England. “If they are taken into account in future planning and construction we can hope to control their impact, but this requires a rethink of how and where we provide the houses and commercial properties that the nation will need in the years to come, as well as taking a fresh look at our existing built environment.”

The conference was organised by Sustainability Northwest, an agency which works with partners for the sustainable development of NorthWest England and was supported by English Partnerships, Arup, AXA Insurance, United Utilities, the UK Climate Impacts Programme, the UK Sustainable Development Commission and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

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