West Way Community Concern

Building an environmentally sustainable centre

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By Ruth Mayne, local resident

Residents have been doing a great job over the last 3 years to ensure that any new development in West Way will serve the needs of the community.  Now the application has been lodged it’s our last chance to let Mace and the Vale Council know what we would also like to see happen on vital issues such as environmental standards.

It would seem reasonable to expect a developer of Mace’s size and reputation to aim for the highest sustainability building standards, given the urgency of addressing climate change and meeting the UK’s carbon reduction targets. High environmental standards will also create a range of practical benefits for local residents including warm and comfortable homes, lower fuel bills, attractive green spaces and trees to help ameliorate air pollution and flooding, and enhanced biodiversity among others.  They also make good business sense as demonstrated by the growing number of ‘green’ commercial buildings around the country.

Mace’s plans have received the following initial building (BREEAM*) assessments:

  • 61.2% (very good) for retail and restaurant units
  • 72% (excellent) for the hotel
  • 76.58 % (excellent) for student accommodation

But could it do better?  After all, Waitrose’s new retail store in Botley Road achieved an ‘outstanding’ BREEAM assessment of above 85%.  Going through the plans with a local architect there does seem to be more they could do:

  • General points – we could request Mace to lease the buildings to companies with strong environmental credentials to help ensure high standards.
  • Renewable energy – we could ask for more renewable energy generation. Mace and the Vale have agreed that only 3% of energy needs will be generated by onsite renewable energy – rather than the Vale’s ‘required’ 10%  (or the City council’s 20%) –  on the grounds that anything more would compromise the appearance and provision of green spaces. But could there be more solar PV on some of the pitched roofs?
  • Energy and carbon reduction – the plans include community heating and combined heat and power systems but why do the buildings not have higher energy ratings overall?
  • Ecology and biodiversity – green roofs and terraces, shared gardens, and car park trellis look good but we could also ask that our large trees are not felled, and that there are big, not just small, replacement and new trees planted.  Let’s also ask for nesting boxes for swifts and house martins, and roost for bats.
  • Water run off – the development is to have low water flow controls and rain water gardens to attenuate run off and flooding. But what about rain water recycling and collection and permeable floor surfaces as well?
  • Noise and air pollution –with increased traffic and accommodation next to the A34 should a green barrier be erected to shield occupants from noise and air pollution?
  • Materials –  materials will be low carbon but to achieve that they should also be locally sourced.

Mace’s plans also say there will be post construction performance testing, thermal imaging and training to ensure the standards are implemented which is important. We need to let tell them that we will hold them to this.

Unfortunately it is no longer possible for local councils or Neighbourhood Plans to ‘require’ developers to meet the highest environmental standards. However, that should not stop us from requesting them. National and local policies state that developments must be ‘sustainable’ which means that environmental building standards can be considered a material planning consideration.  At the recent North Hinksey Neighbourhood Plan open day residents said that they would like to see high environmental building standards suggesting that they are increasingly seen as common sense.

I am sure residents will have other ideas about what more could be done. Even if you don’t have time to make detailed suggestions do let Mace and the Vale know whether you think strong environmental building standards are important.

(Ruth Mayne is a North Hinksey resident, co-founder of Carbon West Oxford and currently researching how local carbon reduction strategies can contribute to stronger and fairer communities at the University of Oxford).

* Building Research Establishment Assessment Methodology (BREEAM) uses scientifically based criteria to assess standards for responsible construction practices and sourcing of materials, health and wellbeing, energy use and carbon emissions, water use low carbon design, transport, waste, land use and ecological impact, pollution.

** The Vale of the White Horse draft local plan encourages various sustainable standards relating to transport, promoting public transport, cycling and walking, renewable energy, effective use of natural resources, green infrastructure and enhancing bio-diversity.

 

 

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