The drive to make our previously carbon-intensive town centres net zero has forced developers, local authorities and citizens to reassess their impact on the local environment. 

Andrea Arnall

Andrea Arnall

For developers, new schemes and existing assets are under increasing scrutiny to demonstrate sustainability credentials, and the industry is having to react quickly to net zero targets.

One of the biggest challenges is improving the efficiency of our housing stock and commercial spaces. To do so, we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, instead utilising natural energy sources to passively heat and regulate building temperature. If we make low-carbon heating technologies the norm, then a tangible reduction in UK town-centre carbon emissions is more likely to be secured.

Similarly, we must seriously consider our approach to development; part of the solution is to avoid the carbon-intensive demolition approach and focus investment on regenerating and retrofitting existing buildings.

To achieve net zero town centres, it is pivotal to move away from private car dependency and focus investment on lower-carbon active travel infrastructure for cycling, walking and e-scooters. Ultra-low emission zones can act as a short-term measure.

Lockdown completely altered the way we view town centres, with demand for green space rightfully rocketing. This increased appreciation of the outdoors creates an opportunity for town centres to implement broader biodiversity requirements by factoring green spaces into developments, encouraging tree planting and creating small-scale nature areas across our towns and cities.

Gathering the opinions of the wider community and giving local authorities necessary powers to design bespoke strategies are crucial to achieving net zero town centres. Starting by implementing carbon initiatives will inspire greater awareness of the urgency of this transition by teaching priceless sustainability lessons and producing meaningful benefits.

Andrea Arnall is director of planning at planning and development consultancy Turley