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Parliamentary report backs rethink of urban passive cooling plans

An 18-year decline of green space in urban areas of the UK has exacerbated concerns about inadequate provisions to tackle overheating in planning and building regulations, according to findings from the Environmental Audit Committee

A predicted tripling of heat-related deaths in the UK over the next 30 years will require a drastic rethink of overheating in buildings and cooling provision in urban areas, a parliamentary select committee has warned.

A new report on ‘planetary health’ by the Environmental Audit Committee said that a rise in average temperatures was anticipated to see the number of deaths linked to overheating rising to 7,000 a year by 2050 from 2,000 at present.

The warnings reflect growing concerns by key parliament watchdogs about overheating in buildings and the need for new regulations around planning and design to better mitigate against the impacts of climate change.

Recommendations in the Environmental Audit Committee’s latest report have specifically raised the importance of revised passive cooling initiatives, such as reversing a decline since 2001 of green space in urban areas. Green space is seen as important to limit the ‘heat island’ effect, a term that relates to how more condensed human activity in urban areas results in significantly warmer temperatures than is recorded in rural environments.

MP Mary Creagh, chair of the audit committee, said that government needed someone to champion planetary health concerns across the whole of government policy to tackle health and wellbeing concerns tied to a changing climate.

She said, “More people are living in cities at risk from over-heating and water shortages, they’re breathing polluted air, eating more fast food and getting less exercise.”

In August, findings from the influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC) called for the urgent publication by government of a clear strategy to tackle overheating in both new and existing properties.

A key concern made by the CCC in the report was that existing Building Regulations, which are presently under review, were inadequate for addressing a spike in temperatures and the threat of more intense and frequent heatwaves.

The committee said, “The risk of overheating in terms of minimising risks to health and safety of occupants should be enshrined into regulations for new build homes and retrofits. This should be considered alongside an integrated review of energy efficiency and ventilation, and be included in the government’s planned Future Homes Standard, to include improvement in the measurement of current and future overheating risk and prioritise passive cooling measures.”

Another core recommendation of the report was a need to scale-up retrofit programmes in homes. This proposed work would look at major overheating risks and different means of reducing the need for more active cooling, such as air conditioning systems, in favour of passive measures.

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