Monday, December 18, 2006

UK's largest green roof

If you want an example of just how stupid green architecture is becoming, take a peek at what is happening in Hemel Hempsted. Hemel Ski Centre is going to build an indoor snow complex. If you wanted to design an energy guzzling leisure facility to rival an Airbus, it would be an indoor snow complex. It’s a bit of hi-tech wizardry that would have been undreamt of a few years ago, but this one is set to be the fourth in the UK. It’s also barely 30 miles from the first one, Snozone in Milton Keynes, but what does that matter? In ten years time, we may well have 50 indoor snow complexes, because it looks as though there won’t be much snow anywhere else.

Now there were problems with the planners. They didn’t like version one which had an aluminium roof. “Too big and shiny”, they suggested. So the aluminium was ditched and instead….hey presto….version two has a green roof. Not just any old green roof, but the biggest green roof in Britain. Well it would be, wouldn’t it? I mean these indoor snow complexes are the size of a small mountain.

We are told the “revolutionary roof” will “blend in” with the horizon, it will help insulate and it will collect rainwater for re-use in the design. In other words, it’s been given a green makeover to add leverage to the revised planning application.

Call me an old cynic, but I keep seeing more and more of this stuff: developers shoehorning sustainability into projects that are essentially unreconstructed 20th century gas-guzzlers. Out-of-town shopping centre anyone? Fine, if it’s got a wind turbine. New hotel? Just make sure it’s on a bus route. Egged on by the government, the planners lap this stuff up. Dacorum Borough Council duly accepted the revised plan last week and the Hemel Snow Complex is set to fly. Dacorum Councillor Derek Townsend commented to the local paper: “One thing I do look at is the green roof — I think it’s a wonderful idea.”

The Stansted airport expansion plans were not so lucky. Last week Uttlesford District Council rejected plans for a second runway at the airport. Perhaps BAA, the owners and developers, ought to reapply with a version where the planes land on a limecrete runway laid out under a grass covered tunnel, to disgorge their passengers into a straw bale terminal building. You never know.