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One of the burning questions for FMs and service providers is how to make older facilities comply with their net zero carbon aims and Camden Council has made a bold step to solving the issue

There has been a considerable increase in interest concerning the UK’s commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which has included more awareness of the role that needs to be played by the FM industry to assist in achieving this.

While a growing number of new buildings are now designed and constructed with this aim in mind, it is commonly accepted that much of the UK’s building stock will still be in use as the deadline approaches, requiring that urgent attention be devoted to retrofitting these to make them more efficient and reduce their emissions.

Swiss Cottage Library is the central reference library facility for the London Borough of Camden and was constructed in 1964, at a time when little or no attention was given to reduced or efficient energy consumption. Designed by Sir Basil Spence, the library was part of the Swiss Cottage Centre that included a sports facility that was demolished and rebuilt in recent years.

The library was constructed by McAlpine & Sons and was opened by Queen Elizabeth II as the Hampstead Public Library. Apart from changing its name to Swiss Cottage Library, the facility remained relatively unaffected by local changes and redevelopment. However, it was then threatened with demolition as part of the Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre development proposals in 1997, but its identification as a Grade II listed building resulted in the local council changing its plans and opting instead to have the library refurbished.

There has, of course, been considerable change in recent years, combined with increasing awareness of the need to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Although the library continues to provide essential services to the local community, its 1960s design has led to it being labelled one of Camden Council’s highest consumers of energy.

The estate includes more than 60 buildings and Swiss Cottage Library was one of the worst performers, so seemed the best place to start in the council’s journey to net zero carbon emissions.

It should be noted that Camden Council is making good progress on its journey to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030. It achieved a 61% reduction in emissions in 2020/21, based on 2009/10 figures. The council’s climate action plan is centred around four themes, of which one is buildings.

Funding was secured for the Swiss Cottage Library project in 2021 from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund and works on site began earlier this year.

The council’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint have also been assisted by its participation in the government’s Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) energy efficiency scheme. This was followed in November 2019 by the council formally declaring a climate and ecological emergency to highlight the threat of climate change and its severe impact on ecosystems.

Having committed to its action plan to make the Camden area comply with net zero carbon emissions by 2030, the Swiss Cottage Library is an important contribution to achieving this goal.

In addition to its high consumption of energy, another compelling reason for upgrading the facility was that its  air-cooled chillers, air handling units and the roof of the building were in need of replacement. Budgets and designs were produced and then the project was put out to tender.  Long-time hard service provider partner Ergro Technical Services was successful in securing this tender and began the extensive list of works required to turn the facility into an energy-efficient building.

Ergro Technical Services chairman Chris Wollen describes the project as one of the largest completed by the company, with numerous lessons learned that will continue to assist the council, in addition to the company’s growing number of FM clients. “In addition to the roof, we’ve replaced all the single-glazed windows in the building with double-glazing and changed all the old fluorescent lights to LED. The roof is now fully insulated so the energy savings from these two operations alone are significant.”

Having reduced heat loss in all areas, the facility has been made suitable for the installation of air-source heat pumps to replace the gas boilers that had been in place since 1984. Two Daikin 100kW twin-pipe air-source heat pumps have been installed by Ergro, complemented by three roof-mounted air handling units (AHUs) and one within the basement plant room, with all four units including heat recovery.

Completing the project in line with the expectations of the council and the Grade II listed status of the facility included the challenge of allowing the library to remain open to the public throughout.

Yet another aspect of the project has been the removal of solar panels that were installed in 2017 to prepare for the replacement of the roof. Following the completion of that part of the project, the 49.6kW system was cleaned and replaced and continues to assist the facility in its energy efficiency aims.

Predicted savings following the completion of all works are expected to exceed 138 tonnes of carbon emissions per annum, also including reductions in energy costs of more than £31,000.

Mr Wollen says that one of the company’s most significant actions was its initial in-depth planning and preparation for the works, including the early sourcing of materials. This meant that the project was able to proceed without any of the supply chain issues seen across the FM and construction industries this year.

Another highly positive aspect of Camden Council’s efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of its estate is that this has enabled it to provide valuable advice to local businesses and provide further support for its objectives. It has formed the Camden Climate Change Alliance, a network of businesses, schools and organisations in the area which is designed to provide access to resources and tools and assist those joining the alliance to reduce their impact on the environment and save costs wherever possible.


Prior to the completion of the Swiss Cottage Library upgrade, Camden Council refurbished its Holmes Road Depot facility, which is its third-largest office site in the borough.

This is another 1960s construction and a high consumer of high levels of energy as a result. However, following the various works completed in 2021, it has reduced its carbon footprint by 40%. The various operations completed have included the installation of a heat recovery and ventilation system and heat pumps that now provide heating, cooling and ventilation.