Demolish or Refurbish? It’s a Sustainability Issue

December 2019

As a company dedicated to pushing the boundaries to provide the best in value engineering, Symmetrys has been asked on many occasions to advise on whether a building should be demolished to make way for a new build, or refurbished.  This is a big issue.

In a recent article in the AJ Magazine, Will Hurst called for a campaign to prioritise retrofitting existing buildings over demotion and rebuild by asking the Government to cut the VAT rate on refurbishment down to 5%, in line with the tax rate for new builds. This, he hopes, will promote the reuse of existing building stock, and stimulate the circular economy in construction by insisting that all publicly funded projects look to retrofit solutions first.

We can vouch for this line of thinking. Symmetrys was recently asked to advise on a project made the news when a coalition of residents in East London fought to stop the demolition of their homes.  Two blocks in Whitechapel, containing 80 homes, were earmarked for demolition citing that it would take a lot of costly structural work to make the blocks habitable.  The report initially stated that it would cost over £6M to carry out these works. As a result, the destruction of the blocks and rebuilding of the prime site became the preferred option by the Local Authority.

We were commissioned to complete a full survey and report on the overall condition of the buildings from a structural view point. Our findings were that the buildings were structurally sound with only cosmetic defects being apparent.  In fact, we established that it would take an estimate of only £1.8M of works to totally refurbish the blocks, including new roofs and windows.

With the relief of the local tenants, who can now happily stay where many of them have lived for generations, it begs the question why we don’t look at our existing stock in the first instance, instead of assuming that carbon guzzling new builds are the preferred option. Refurbishments are often a more cost-effective, more carbon efficient and socially accepted solution.

With the climate emergency very much at the forefront of the news, and the new Government target to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, the construction industry – with its sky high carbon emissions due to its consumption of cement, steel, aluminium and plastics – should be leading the way.

If refurbishment and retrofit is to become the default solution going forward, we must bring structural engineers and architects on board early, and before the cost solution of a cheaper, lower risk new build is set in stone.  At Symmetrys, we have great relationships with frame manufacturers, and can advise clients on a system that not only adds value to your development, but also ensures you are delivering a more sustainable solution.

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