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Housing and sustainability: demolition or refurbishment?

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The demolition or refurbishment of older housing has been an active policy area since the late 1880s in the UK, when the government first authorised the statutory demolition of unsanitary slums. The debate on demolition and new building has been intensified since 2003, with government proposals for large-scale clearance and new construction. This paper summarises the evidence and debate on whether demolition would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. It examines whether a more achievable and socially beneficial route to reducing energy use in the built environment exists, based on the fact that buildings account for half of the UK's carbon emissions. This paper argues that large-scale and accelerated demolition would neither help with meeting energy and climate change targets, nor would it address social needs. Refurbishment offers clear advantages in time, cost, community impact, prevention of building sprawl, reuse of existing infrastructure and protection of existing communities. It can also lead to significantly reduced energy use in buildings in both the short and long term.

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