Portcullis House part-closed, Hammersmith Bridge wrapped in foil

The temporary Home Office helpdesk within the £235 million Thameside building will be shut today (18 July) and tomorrow ‘due to the exceptionally high temperatures [expected]’, according to the Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, engineers have wrapped insulation foil around the Hammersmith Bridge’s chains to protect the Victorian structure from temperatures of up to 40°C which are predicted in the capital.

Concerns about the overheating of Portcullis House were picked up by Green Party peer and former party leader Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle on Friday (15 July) during a House of Lords debate about the Healthy Homes Bill. The draft legislation’s objectives include that all new homes must be designed to provide ‘year-round thermal comfort for inhabitants’.

The Green Party peer said: ‘[I] want to bring us very close to home and point out to noble Lords that on Monday and Tuesday, the Home Office service office in Portcullis House will be closed because it is expected to be so hot that it will not be safe for people to work there.

‘If we want a metaphor for the unfitness of our current politics and of everything we have delivered for our society, there, in a nutshell – or in a glass-shelled office – is that metaphor.’

The Home Office hub is accessed through the main atrium.

In previous years parts of this glass atrium in the heart of the 21-year-old Portcullis House, which houses MPs and their staff but also provides in-person passport surgeries, had to be cordoned off while repairs were carried out on cracked glazing panels, possibly resulting from small movements in the roof.

In 2016 a report said that seasonal variations and settlement in the building’s roof structure could have been a factor in causing the glazing units to fail, with the fixings designed to accommodate movement taken to the edge of their tolerances.

Hopkins and the house of Commons have been approached for comment.

At Hammersmith Bridge, Arcadis has been working on an extra package of measures to keep the structure’s chains cool by wrapping those above water level in silver insulation foil to reflect the sun.

The chains, which are anchored to the river bed, are regulated to be kept under 13°C in the summer. If any of them reach 18°C, safety engineers will shut the bridge.

They are monitored through a £420,000 temperature control system to keep the bridge at a safe temperature and alleviate any stresses on the pedestals.

The historic Grade II*-listed bridge had to be fully closed in August 2020 when micro-fractures in its cast-iron pedestals widened during a heatwave.

Comment

Chris Bennett, co-founder and managing director of sustainability services company Evora Global

The climate emergency has huge, long-term implications for the real estate market. The UK’s buildings and offices aren’t designed for temperatures in the high 30Cs, let alone the 40Cs.

A stiflingly hot office is not a pleasant or productive place to be. Extreme heat will render some workplaces unusable, or barely usable. Some will be practically deserted as working from home re-emerges. When there is such competition to get employees back into the workplace, uncomfortable offices will become devalued.

All of this will bring into question their overall value. Workplaces that can cost effectively cope with a heatwave will be valued more highly than those which are effectively forced to shut down.

Investors could be looking to invest in real estate assets that are easy and cheap to keep cool; for people, for perishable goods and for IT. Properties that have the capacity to cope with high temperatures.

Does the office have the capacity to keep cool without costing the earth? Can the building manager see how the building is working and how much energy this is using? And still hit their emissions targets?

We have to wake up and see this as a final warning for the real estate industry, and the wider business community. Climate change is here and is playing havoc.

For too long, the real estate market has focused on historic data

If heatwaves become a permanent fixture, cooling our buildings could cost more and more and create more emissions. Those emissions contribute to climate change, so it could lock us into a vicious cycle that undermines the value of assets.

For too long, the real estate market has focused on historic data. We are rapidly moving into a very different world, where climate change is a part of our everyday lives.

New software uses scientific data to produce forward looking models of these climate risks. It’s time for the real estate market to wake up and realise it faces substantial financial risks from climate change.

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