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David Cowans, Places for People: “Competing about climate change is a zero sum game”

Group chief executive of Places for People David Cowans talks net zero, retrofitting homes and why the UK industry needs to come together and collaborate to combat climate change

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The Port Loop development
The Port Loop development

“I know we’re a competitive industry,” says David Cowans, Group Chief Executive of Places for People. “But we’re not competing about climate change, surely.”


We’re talking about building housing and tackling climate change in an interview at the Festival of Place – now available to listen to via podcast.


Cowans feels the industry in stuck in “a zero sum game”


“Why isn’t there more collaborative working? If everyone is doing their own thing, we risk an extremely glacial response. When we look back we can feel self-righteous about what we did as individuals, but we didn’t do what it takes to make a difference.”


Listen to the interview


Cowans says property developers are not sharing intelligence or partnering in order to make retrofitting and innovative projects more viable.


“We need to learn by doing – but why aren’t we doing it together? We’re not innovative enough. We don’t look outside the UK enough. What happens in the UK is not the benchmark. We produce the smallest homes in Europe, and we don’t build enough of them.”


“We produce the smallest homes in Europe, and we don’t build enough of them”


In terms of reusing and refurbishing existing stock in the face of climate change, Cowans believes we need more debate about stranded assets that are not suitable for retrofit and what to do with them.


“Can they be used for other uses? We need to think about making them purposeful for the next century. Knocking them down is not the best option.”


As for the centre of cities and towns, Cowans believe the future of downtowns will see the very young and the very old living there.


“Most people who are very young or very old like the idea of living in a place where there are other people, and where facilities are close to them,” says Cowans.


“The infrastructure is already there. How does one use existing transport and other infrastructure and build density around them. The future of towns is that for me. It’s going to require businesses to manage mixed use and mixed tenure neighbourhoods.”


“The ability to manage mixes and different tenure types is going to be important in making these new town centres work.”


Listen to the interview


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