Contributed by Dr Angela Drakakis-Smith
Recently the Newcastle Borough Council (NBC) sent out for consultation its Energy Efficiency and Climate Change Strategy, which made interesting reading.
First, it appears that the NBC has a Climate Change Officer on a temporary contract who seems to have been given the big task of tackling climate change. Reading the Strategy document it also appears that tackling climate change is first coming from within – the NBC building. Whilst this could be seen as setting a good example it would also appear, at first, to be a unilateral action by the borough council- as if only our paid and elected officers can effect climate change from their own small domain in Merrial Street and outlier buildings such as the Guild Hall. Well, actually this might be a very good place to start since we learn that the NBC offices consume and emit more energy/CO2 than all of the street lighting in the borough. Such are the wonders of science that we can now measure hot air!
The corollary to this ‘finding’ might be that NBC offices are failing energy efficiency tests and are being found too expensive to run in their current formThus it might be cheaper to vacate and relocate. Rumour has it that it might be to one of the vacant plots on the Keele University campus. Another is that it could be to Stoke-on-Trent in some form of amalgamation. Whilst neither might be true, a sobering question remains: in a recent refurbishment of the NBC offices did thick carpet take priority over roof and wall insulation, leather seating in the council chamber over double-glazed windows or a more energy efficient heating system?
When the conservation area for the town centre was re-drawn the NBC offices appeared to be conspicuously outside the red line! As a better example of 1960s architecture within the town it is hoped that this building will be taken onto the local list for its own protection. It might also stand as an historic relic of local governance possibly housing a museum or art gallery.
It is thus difficult to know if the Climate Change Strategy is sounding the death-knell for this building or whether the strategy is a usual top-down approach to climate change. Given past form, where refurbishment takes place demolition follows – or does that apply just to the County Council? The Strategy might have been more convincing if it was bottom-up and more inclusive. After all, one officer and one consortium of offices are hardly going to save the day. It could, however, be a start.