Responsible, sustainable development for transforming Birmingham

Turner and Townsend

As Birmingham continues to attract record levels of investment in urban regeneration and city centre development, the next 20 years will see the city as we know it transform.

Birmingham City Council’s Big City Plan establishes the importance of ensuring this transformational change is driven by sustainable growth, underpinned by the target of a 60 per cent reduction in the city’s carbon dioxide emissions by 2026.

Developers will need to plan their schemes in a socially responsible way, striving for low carbon, sustainable buildings that are ready to be part of a connected net zero city. Here are five principles to consider for Birmingham’s investor and developer community.

Tall buildings can create a memorable cityscape

Birmingham has a clear need to expand upwards as well as outwards, maximising the use of existing city centre space by bringing high-quality tall buildings through the planning system.

Compared to the UK’s other major cities, Birmingham has few tall towers today and in the pipeline, but recent years have seen their emergence in the build-to-rent sector  such as the 155m Octagon development at Paradise and 42-storey Mercian tower off Broad Street.

Tall residential schemes are complemented by central commercial towers such as 103 Colmore Row, which is attracting headline professional tenants such as financial adviser Grant Thornton and law firm Shoosmiths.

While stitching tall buildings into the skyline, long-term spatial planning should ensure their location is handled carefully, respecting the surrounding environment and topography. With the youngest city population in Europe, and vibrant professional and creative sectors, Birmingham’s developments must continue to offer value for money.

Offsetting new build developments to achieve carbon credentials

Low carbon credentials are non-negotiable for Birmingham’s new builds, and won’t be achieved through embedded carbon reductions alone. Credible, integrated offsetting strategies must form a key component of low carbon plans for buildings.

Birmingham’s investors and developers should take heed that the current cost of carbon is around £70 per tonne according to the UK Green Building Council, however this could increase to more than £120 per tonne or more by the end of this decade.

Offsetting strategies need to be part of the core development appraisal process, rather than a bolt-on or afterthought. The UK Green Building Council’s Renewable Energy Procurement and Carbon Offsetting Guidance for Net Zero Tall Buildings provides a useful set of principles to structure thinking.

The built environment must respect the natural environment

While pursuing offsetting strategies, there is an increasing requirement for developers to ‘green’ buildings and enhance surrounding biodiversity, to futureproof the city centre and respond effectively to the impacts and opportunities presented by climate change.

There is more data available now than ever before on the climate risks faced in specific locations, and these resources should become a first port of call when embarking on any project in Birmingham, to enable effective proactive mitigations.

Mitigating transition risk – the potential for assets to become stranded due to their reliance on fossil fuels – should be carefully considered as part of long-term building strategies. Any building that cannot be economically adapted to join the transition away from fossil fuels could become a stranded asset, seeing its value fall significantly.

Whole life understanding is critical

For all these reasons, Birmingham’s developers need to be thinking now about how their assets can be net zero across their lifecycle.

Enterprise Wharf, in the Innovation Birmingham Campus, is Birmingham’s first smart-enabled building powered by IoT technology. This is a case in point on post-construction building performance, with active management of a building’s facilities management – from HVAC to lighting and CCTV – key to ensuring continued carbon savings.

Thinking beyond a building’s immediate use, a transformative factor in reducing construction impacts could be the adoption of a circular economy, whereby developers prioritise using existing parts and materials from buildings due for demolition. This would require a mindset shift, with buildings proactively designed with future re-uses in mind.

Carefully planned refurbishment will breathe new life into existing assets

In planning the future cityscape, developers must consider the assets we have today, and how existing buildings can be reinvigorated to retain the distinctive character of the city while minimising operational carbon.

The refurbishment of 60 Church Street offers a prime example of this principle, with £2 million of work completed to install new heating and cooling systems, underfloor and perimeter trunking, and new suspended ceilings with metal tiles and LG7 lighting – bringing a historical building into a modern context.

Refurbishment is now becoming the norm for commercial buildings in London, and this trend is likely to continue growing across Birmingham’s developments as a key component of the city’s sustainable growth.

If developers pursue these principles, they could play a huge part in developing a smart Birmingham that’s match fit for the future, providing high quality living, authentic experiences and a hub of knowledge and creativity.