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Image: Stefan Powell [CC BY-2.0; Wikimedia Commons]

 

Masterplanning for Low Carbon Development – towards 2016 – An article by Julian Brooks and Gary Jackson

2016! -The zero carbon compliance targets for new buildings are 3 years away and any professional within our sector should be – by now – considering, how Town Planning / Urban Design policy can help development achieve these targets.  It is wrong to think of this as simply a building control issue; development control and planning policy have a key role to play. Bad solar-masterplanning (site layout) often creates irrevocable solar losses, with the knock on impact of permanently increasing energy demand, construction costs and C02 emissions.  Is good solar-masterplanning applied effectively or consistently?  The answer is, almost certainly, not yet!

The challenge, remains, delivering certainty in this policy area during the planning process? Yet the fundamentals of good solar-masterplanning have been documented for many years.

The key aspects of solar-masterplanning that can affect energy demand and CO2 emissions are:

– Overshading

– Orientation

– Built form

– Massing

– Density

– Glazing ratios

 

These aspects determine the availability of solar energy and daylight, which are essential for the promotion of energy efficient buildings and increasing well-being.  More significantly, they optimise the use of free energy and light – thus, delivering free permanent energy savings and reducing CO2 emissions [albeit, some developments may not utilize them initially!].   They are also well-understood parameters of urban design and master-planning.  Developing Planning Policy and guidance in these areas will have an impact on our zero carbon compliance targets for new buildings in 2016.

 

Why aren’t we doing it already?

The over-arching perspective is of inconsistent practice and uncertainty – in turn, reducing the “weight” of these issues.  Until now many aspects of designing for sunlight and daylight have, merely, been seen as desirable [i.e., not essential] and, at the same time, too complex and time consuming to deal with in Policy and through Development Control.   For example, certain local planning policies and guidance require analysis to be undertaken and good practice guides such as BR209 complied with, others don’t – despite BR209, “Site Layout Planning for Sunlight and Daylight”,  having been published since 1998 and having been tested at EIP, by the Inspectorate and in the courts.

There are various methods for addressing these issues at the design stage – and software can assist in verifying results.   This work is normally delivered by a handful of specialists and tends to be single building focussed.  It is considered too expensive and specialised for general practice.  Thus, it is rarely applied to urban design/masterplans; Solar Gain and Daylight are not considered ‘hard/guiding’ parameters in such schemes.

We believe that quick, simple-to-operate and cost effective software tools are starting to come onto the market. Tools that address these issues directly.  This is, in part, assisted by the increasing desire of designers to work in 3-D.  Planning Policy should be able to utilise the development of such software to its advantage and integrate the results with work-flows.

One example is LightUp Analytics (“LUA”), which can be used to quickly analyse large SketchUp Models.  It is based on BR209 and is specifically intended to be a daylight and sunlight assessment tool, rather than a building-specific energy modelling package. The research behind it has been partly funded by the Technology Strategy Boards’ Innovation Voucher fund and by Rationel Windows and Doors UK Ltd.

Wellness. Until now, policies on daylight and sunlight access have, often, been deemed as only important in dense urban areas; often related to amenity concerns.  However, a statutory change has recently occurred that has a direct impact on development.

In 2012, the UK Government issued the Health and Social Care Act which created a new public health role in Local Authorities.

[The details can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/127045/Public-health-role-of-local-authorities-factsheet.pdf.pdf]

Local Authorities, respective elected members and Planning Policy professionals are now coming to terms with this agenda.  They are beginning to look at key relationships:

  1. Health and well-being are linked to daylight and sunlight access (e.g., access helps to ameliorate Seasonally Adjusted Disorder (SAD) and improve the cognitive-function of people suffering with dementia). Providing good access to solar gains helps to reduce the costs of artificial heating and lighting and therefore directly assists with reducing fuel poverty, especially for the elderly and those on low incomes.

If good levels of daylight and sunlight access can be modelled quickly with robust and measurable outputs, such analysis can easily form part of an emergent Public Health Planning Policy and provide a strand to a Planning Authority’s high level Sustainability Assessment process.

Process. It always seems that little measurable emphasis is placed on assessing the built form, orientation or layout from an energy efficient perspective; certainly at the early pre-application stages.  With software like LUA, the whole process of assessing for daylight and sunlight impact on multiple buildings, or a building and its context, can become part of general practice.  With such robust assessment and Policy/Guidance in place Council’s can be certain that they are assisting in measurably delivering zero carbon compliance targets for new buildings!

We therefore firmly believe that policy should now begin to be developed that tests the compliance of masterplans for energy efficient orientation, layout and massing. The benefits of this could be significant in the following ways:

  1. An optimised energy efficient master-plan (orientation, layout, massing and built form) could potentially reduce the overall energy demand and CO2 emission levels by upto 40% (based upon similar experiences in Germany).
  2. The savings from (1.) are theoretically permanent unless someone changes the street layout!
  3. The costs of dealing with “zero carbon” compliance are reduced as the total site wide emissions have been reduced via optimisation.

To conclude, we firmly believe that with the upcoming Zero Carbon challenges, the new Public Health challenge for Local Authorities and the advent of easy to use software (such as LUA), the case for optimising plans for sunlight and daylight access has never been stronger.

The LUA team is currently seeking opportunities to work with Local Planning Authorities, Architects, Urban Designers and Masterplanners on projects where we can develop optimisation standards and compliance strategies.

Please contact the LightUp Analytics team if you want to discuss these matters in more detail
(Julian Brooks, consulting@lightup-analytics.com, 01308 487012, www.lightup-analytics.com)