It’s the future, see?

By Barny Evans at WSP


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At WSP we have a programme called “Future Ready”, the idea being that we should consider what we can reasonably predict about the future when involved in giving technical advice or undertaking design work. Whilst, of course, this should be applicable to us all it is particularly apt for Young Entrepreneurs in Property, both because you are the people who are likely to be using the developments of the future and because you are the ones whose who behaviours and beliefs will create the future.

The subject occupies my mind a lot and I am now old enough to have seen some policies/decisions that have not been thought through in my sector, even when the results could have been foreseen:

Diesel cars – When I was a kid no-one had a diesel car, it was just vans and tractors, etc. But then it was pointed out that diesel vehicles emit slightly less CO2 and our government and others started to promote them, to the point where about 50% of cars sold in the UK are diesel. My lungs have been paying the price ever since. This could have been foreseen, testing of diesel engines in real world use could have been undertaken to see the emission impact.

  1. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) – In our building sector, CHP engines have been promoted over the past few years because as they generate heat and power they are more efficient than using gas boilers and mains electricity and reduce CO2 emissions. But again, the result has been terrible. As our mains electricity has decarbonised, (over 50% comes from renewables and nuclear) we have now passed a point where CHP engines definitely increase CO2 emissions and they are now emitting more CO2 emissions than the normal gas boiler / mains electricity and it is getting worse every day. We have the same issue with air quality from CHP. Because they emit several times the NOx emissions of gas boilers they are now a significant source of additional air pollution. This could have been foreseen; the commitment to decarbonise our electrical grid has been a legal requirement and political consensus for over a decade.

Productive Buildings – The sustainability agenda has driven energy efficiency in buildings. Although it hasn’t been as effective as it could be, there have been substantial reductions in energy demand for new buildings. We have taken our eyes off the main purpose of the buildings which is to do something; whether that is to write reports, sell things, educate people or whatever. Only now is there beginning to be a trend back to thinking about how we can make the people in our buildings more effective through lighting, air quality,

  1. personal controls, etc. and of course that is what will make us most efficient overall.

I have actually noticed that there is more of a long-term attitude coming into decision making and ironically it may be coming from the involvement of private capital. Where previously the mentality was build and forget, now we have PPP and the private rented sector where the owner cares if their flats overheat because it will affect their rent, and they care about the running costs because they have to pay them. There are, of course, other examples in other sectors and it is worth reiterating that although the future is inherently unpredictable, there are clear trends and we should pause to think about them. My thoughts in this area have led me to advocate all-electric developments for exactly this reason.

So when you are designing an interior or a hard surface layout, when you are designing an electrical system or commissioning a new block of flats, think to yourself. I know it isn’t easy and clients, colleagues and others can be dismissive of your ideas, (sometimes for good reason) but as long as you keep thinking and asking the questions our built environment will be better

Some examples of the kind of questions I think about are:

  • How can we incorporate a future when no-one needs their own vehicle?
  • As technology removes the need for us to meet people / physically move how can development help us to stay healthy mentally and physically?
  • What will happen to shopping centres and high streets when buying things other than food and drink are almost entirely online?
  • How will our developments work if climate change projections turn out to be correct?

YEP is the ideal group to explore these things from all perspectives and should be fully involved in thinking about how we design our future world.

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