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UK heatwave resilience report demands urgent building regs changes

Changes to building regulations and environmental law will be vital to prevent an anticipated rise in heat related deaths in the UK owing to climate change, a parliamentary committee argues

Building Regulations must be amended to address a lack of government policy on limiting potential overheating in homes, a new report on the UK’s susceptibility to heatwaves has said.

The calls for regulatory change have been made in a report by parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee that has focused on national efforts to better adapt to a predicted rise in heatwaves in the UK. Heat-related deaths are expected to treble by 2050 without direct government action and planning, requiring new approaches to building design and functions, according to the findings.

Introducing amendments to current construction and environmental legislation in order to ensure homes and other environments are more resilient to higher temperatures are identified in the report as key recommendations for government.

An end to the practice of offering public money to support the construction of modular homes is also backed in the findings over concerns about their resilience to heatwaves.

New thinking

MP Mary Creagh, who serves as chair of the committee, warned that fresh adoption strategies were now needed in conjunction with local authorities and the NHS to address fears that climate change may result in summer temperatures reaching 38.5 deg C by 2040.

Ms Creagh argued that the government’s current adaption plan did not have an effective strategy to tackle overheating in buildings and other key infrastructure.

She said, “It must change building regulations and planning policies to ensure homes and transport networks are able to deal with extreme heat, and that local authorities and cities have green spaces and heat-resilient infrastructure.”

The concerns will likely add pressure on the cooling and construction industries to better mitigate against a shift towards higher temperatures for summer periods.

Ms Creagh added, “Heatwaves cause premature deaths from cardiac, kidney and respiratory disease. There will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 if the government does not take action.”

“The government needs to do more to warn the public of the health risks of heatwaves, particularly when they fall outside of the summer period, and should appoint a minister to lead work across government.”

The committee’s findings warn that an estimated 20 per cent of UK homes overheat, posing a significant health risks. A range of homes such as single aspect flats and buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as densely populated urban properties are seen as being susceptible to overheating.

The report stated, “This presents a risk to those who are vulnerable to high temperatures such as older people, those with underlying cardiovascular or respiratory conditions, those with disabilities and children. There is no building regulation to prevent overheating in buildings, and tests to identify overheating are weak and ineffective.”

“However, the committee heard uncertainty from government ministers about whether the building regulations should be used to protect human health. The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers believe building regulations should be changed to protect health and have developed a series of tests to prevent buildings overheating at design stage.”

The Environmental Audit Committee also highlighted a need for local authorities to be drawing up plans for heatwave adaptation that focus on development and public health concerns.

Concerns were noted by the committee that it had received evidence for its report from one only council, while the Local Government Association said that a bespoke work programme did not currently exist for tackling impacts of climate change.

The committee said, “Funding for programmes to support local authority climate change adaptation was withdrawn in 2015/16, leading to the closure of numerous regional climate change partnerships.”

Another potential concern raised in the report was around cities being considerably warmer than surrounding countryside due to the absorption of heat on hard surfaces in urban areas during day time.  These surfaces then emit this heat at night.

Efforts to reduce this build-up of heat are not presently included in local and central government planning frameworks, according to the findings.

The committee has therefore urged government to introduce urban green infrastructure commitments in long-term strategies such as its 25 Year Environment Plan.

The heatwave adaption findings have been published just days after the same committee demanded a new environmental watchdog be established to assume the roles currently overseen by European institutions after Brexit.

Publication of the reports has coincided with parliament entering its summer recess on July 24. It is scheduled to resume work in early September.

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