June 23. 2024. 12:18

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Lawmaker: Football stadiums ‘not covered’ by EU green building law


The European Union is currently revamping its green buildings law. Ahead of finals talks on the proposal, EURACTIV interviewed Ciarán Cuffe, a Green MEP who will represent the European Parliament in negotiations with the other EU institutions.

After months of negotiations with other political parties in the European Parliament, you have managed to unite the hemicycle behind your approach. What’s next?

This is the beginning of a journey. And the journey ends in 2050. With the vast bulk of European and buildings achieving an A energy rating, both this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.

For instance, we are saying that residential buildings will have to get to a D energy rating by 2033. And, and we know that buildings are maybe renovated every 15 to every 20 years. So we’re probably not doing it all in one go.

But this is a journey that will last for 25 to 30 years. And I think it’ll be a huge opportunity for companies to generate a lot of employment and a lot of profit in providing the products and in providing the labour that will deliver on this.

What will this mean for large buildings like football stadiums?

Football stadia or the like are not in the directive’s scope, unless they are roofed and heated or cooled.

Holiday homes are not subject to the directive’s requirements, because they’re generally occupied for short periods of the year.

The other exemptions would apply to very small homes under 50 square meters or heritage buildings protected by legislation or plans of that country, the local plans.

What about timeshares, and shared holiday homes?

The Directive allows Member States to exempt those if they so choose.

There will be exceptions in all of this, but the main thrust is to really get the momentum going, and this law will help us decarbonise, it will undoubtedly move us in the right direction.

What will the coming years look like for larger buildings once the new directive enters into force?

I would recommend that they carry out an audit of their energy use. And quite often, there’s very low-hanging fruit on what can be achieved.

What would those look like for, say, football stadiums?

The directive does not apply to the stadium’s outside areas.

If there are clubhouses or offices, we’d have to look at the small print in the buildings and see whether the level of occupancy, whether it’s temporary or full-time occupancy.

But with any building, there are always measures that can be taken, in some cases with very high rates of return.

In Dublin, we looked at our swimming pools, and we saw technologies that had a one-year rate of return, they were haemorrhaging energy through the windows, through their heating systems. And we were able to achieve a lot.

With my background as an architect, I would say there is always something you can do relatively quickly and relatively low cost to deliver a significant energy saving.

So the first upgrade to a building’s energy performance could come relatively easily?

We only want to get them to the E as the first step, so yes.

But the ultimate target is much higher than that, how will that be implemented?

That will be up to the member states in their national building renovation plan. So the link between the high-level directive at a European level and the member state is the national building renovation plan.

These plans will set out the details for what happens as we move through the 2030s and beyond.

It may well be that the member state will say sports stadia should be exempted or put in some other category. But I think these will be very practical documents that will reflect the reality of the building stock in that country.

As always, these plans have to be submitted and signed off by the European Commission, so there’s probably somebody in a small office in the Berlaymont [HQ of the European Commission] getting ready to receive 27 plans in a few year’s time.

This can be challenge for many reasons. Do you think it can be done?

I think flexibility and fairness are the keywords when it comes to implementation. And I think we can spend all day developing particular building types that might be challenging or problematic. But ultimately, we’re talking about the bulk of 20th-century buildings that are leaky, that are energy poor, and that are relatively easy to improve.

Sometimes it will be the windows, sometimes it will be the roofs, more often than not, it will be the heating system that probably has to be replaced every 20 years anyway.

And I would keep stressing this English phrase, the low-hanging fruit: I think the first step on this journey will be easy.

It may get more difficult as the decades pass, but I think new technologies and new materials are coming on stream that will make this easier as we head towards the finish line.

What can we expect down the line?

We are seeing a move towards prefabrication modular construction and solutions that are yet to become widespread but reflect greater productivity gains possible.

I was up in Copenhagen a few years ago, I was very impressed with their modular systems for new construction. But even in the Netherlands, they are rolling out modular Insulation Solutions for existing buildings.

I think this will be a real growth area for companies for SMEs to offer solutions that apply to a particular category or typology of buildings.

And also, within the directive, we have stressed the neighbourhood approach.

Why?

Because if you go to Warsaw or if you go to Dublin, you will find a particular type of building that crops up again and again. And if we solve one of those buildings, it would be much easier to roll out a solution that works for 100 or 1000 of those similar buildings.

You’re about to begin intense negotiations with EU countries, many of whom fiercely oppose your approach. What are your red lines heading into the trilogue negotiations?

My red line is to get us onto a trajectory for the deep decarbonisation of Europe’s building stock. I know that’s very broad. But ultimately, this directive aims to align it with the Fit for 55 package to achieve our decarbonisation goals.

A second red line, slightly more blurry, is to ensure fairness. I think the social safeguards that we have in this file are very important.

We want to help lower-income people at huge risk this winter. With high energy bills, we want to protect them over the coming years. And this winter is a fantastic example of why we must do this.