Last week I had the privilege of touring a handful of property development sites along the River Thames promoted by Chestertons in the UK.
What struck me across all of the developments was the importance of sustainability in all of the designs. According to Berkeley Homes, 27% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from energy use in homes. This developer proudly presents its developments with low energy use, from appliances to lighting, heat and power. Many of their homes are supplied with renewable energy from solar photovoltaic panels, solar thermal panels, air or ground source heat pumps or biomass boilers. Good for the environment and good for the occupant who pays the bills. Energy Performance Certificates in the UK are taken seriously by purchasers, especially of off-plan property, perhaps a little more so than in Gibraltar.
Households in the UK produce just over 23 million tonnes of waste per year, equivalent to 449kg per person. Only around 41% of this is recycled (UK Environment Agency). As a result, how new properties deal with the storage and removal of rubbish is a key feature. Built in segregated bins in kitchens are now the norm for example. This feature has not yet hit mainstream property development in Gibraltar.
The average person in England & Wales uses 150 litres of water a day, nearly 50% more than 25 years ago (Environment Agency). Property developers are using rainwater harvesting systems so that rainfall can be reused in the landscaping or water features. Plus within each development, taps and showers have devices to ensure the flow is no more than it needs to be. Toilets have half and whole flush capability. These features, now standard in the UK, do appear to be found in some recent Gibraltar developments that I know of.
Some, not all, of the developments I visited promoted a live / work environment ie office space designed into the apartments. London encourages working from home facilities as each worker who works from home saves two commutes a day, so less crowding and less fuel used. Gibraltar does not encourage this idea, indeed, the business licence regime somewhat discourages it.
However, the biggest difference in my opinion between the developments I visited and Gibraltar is the policy on car parking. Here we are poles apart. Planning policy in Gibraltar is that developers must provide a parking space for each residential unit built (new build not town centre). Planners insist upon it despite developer protestations. This has admittedly been eased a little in respect of the new wave of studios being built (for example, the requirement was waived at The Hub development now under construction). In the developments I visited in London, the developers want to provide more parking spaces but planning policy does not allow them to, or they are restricted to one space per three bedroom or larger so that two bedrooms and smaller have no access to parking. Thus occupants must use one of the many cycle spaces provided or rely on public transport (which improves every time I visit London).
The Draft New London Plan issued in December 2017 by the Mayor of London states, amongst other new guidelines:
• Car-free development should be the starting point for all development proposals in places that are (or are planned to be) well-connected by public transport, with developments elsewhere designed to provide the minimum necessary parking
• Where sites are redeveloped, existing parking provision should be reduced to reflect the current approach and not be re-provided at previous levels where this exceeds the standards set out in this policy
These policies would be a challenge in Gibraltar currently despite the fact that our roads are already at gridlock much of the time. My article two years ago All Clogged Up discussed the impact of the Gibraltar love affair with the car and car free developments was one of my proposed solutions.
Car parking in much of Gibraltar is provided at surface level, which takes up land that could be used for other purposes, including those that are economically productive or offer social benefits, such as green space and play areas for children. Where parking is on-street, it effectively privatises what is in reality public space and deprives Gibraltar’s residents who do not own cars of access to that space. On-street parking can also impact everyone using those streets – it can reduce the effectiveness of travelling by bus and cycle, make walking more difficult and unappealing and cause issues for emergency services and essential goods and servicing vehicles.
The last paragraph (above) is a copy and paste from Residential Car Parking - Part of the London Plan evidence base - December 2017 but with Gibraltar swapped for London. The report contains a number of evidence based ideas for less clogged up streets and is worth a scan read in my opinion. Not all polices could be implemented in Gibraltar and some of the evidence does not match that of Gibraltar. However, the number of cars owned as a total in Gibraltar cannot keep escalating unchecked.
For now, it seems to me that purchasers of new property in Gibraltar will demand the growth in sustainable property developments like those I saw in London. The recently launched EuroCity development has a car park with electricity provision at every parking space ready for when we all drive hybrids. This is one of the reasons the EuroCity launch has been so successful. Features like these sell property and will be copied by other developers I am sure.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of ideas from abroad that can be copied across the domestic property development sector as we head into greener pastures.
Contributed by Mike Nicholls
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