Re-purposing vacant office buildings into homes could be the solution to dealing with rising carbon emissions.
The Climate Change Transformation Team suggested the plan when asked by Tynwald’s Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee how the Isle of Man emission reduction targets would be impacted by future population rises.
In July of this year, the government announced in its economic strategy it would aim to grow the island’s population to 100,000 by 2037.
The government also has a target for the island to be completely carbon neutral by 2050 as part of its climate change strategy.
Chair of the Climate Change Transformation Board Daphne Caine explained why repurposing vacant office buildings could be the way forward.
She said: ‘This suggestion was made specifically in response to a question from the Tynwald Environment and Infrastructure Committee as to how the Isle of Man will meet its emissions reduction targets if the population increases to 100,000 over the next 10 years or so.
‘It is not a policy which has been discussed by the climate board specifically but is something which has many merits.
‘For example, the benefits of repurposing empty office space or other large unused buildings in towns includes increased night time economic activity, supporting local retail outlets, cafes and restaurants outside of the traditional office hours as well as reducing emissions by “recycling” buildings which have existing infrastructure (water, electricity etc) in place.
‘Offices are normally built in areas with good public transport routes with the ability to walk or cycle to facilities nearby. As remote working decreases demand for large commercial buildings, the opportunity to convert more of these buildings and other brownfield sites into homes at a time when we have a large residential property demand is worth pursuing.’
Mrs Caine said the Manx Development Corporation has been looking into this.
She added that the plans for the old nurses’ home on Westmoreland Road are a prime example of this type of ‘recycling’, which she described as ‘very exciting’. The site will be converted and extended to provide 37 flats.
‘Members of the climate team have also spoken with planning officers who understand the importance of maintaining flexibility when it comes to building use in and around town centres,’ Mrs Caine said.
‘Those discussions will continue at officer and political level to develop the right strategy for our island, with input from the public.’
While giving evidence to the standing committee, head of programme and delivery Aly Lewin explained how this could be economically beneficial.
She said: ‘Does each new person who comes to the Isle of Man need a new home? Can we repurpose buildings that we have?
‘I’ve seen a lot of office buildings in Douglas that could be repurposed into apartments and that could help with town centre living and encourage economic activity at night time.
‘The brownfield sites that the Manx Development Corporation are looking at, those sorts of plans are what we would support because it’s land recycling in our heads.’
The committee went on to ask how difficult it would be to deliver the plan based on the current population when it’s aimed to rise dramatically in the next few years.
‘I think that’s about repurposing what we already have and not necessarily building new homes,’ Ms Lewin said.
‘If you’re repurposing buildings, you’d hope they already have the infrastructure, that they’re on bus routes – that’s what you’d be concerned with.’
Mrs Caine added: ‘Future plans are going to have to account for any expansion but that comes down to making sure we put better homes in place and have the transport policies and reductions across all those sectors to make a better future.’