Environmental Auditing at the University of Cambridge's North West Cambridge Development

Annabel Clark
The University of Cambridge is undertaking the largest single capital development project in its 800-year history.

The project aims to be an exemplar of sustainability, with the help of our environmental auditing service. The University of Cambridge is planning ahead to provide new facilities that are vital to attracting and retaining world-class staff and researchers. The new 150-hectare site at North West Cambridge is creating a sustainable, mixed-use community as an extension of the city, with buildings and public space of high quality design.

This will provide much of the research accommodation and many of the homes for staff that the University is likely to need over the next 20 years. Collaboration with local planning authorities and a wide range of stakeholders, from both the university and the community, is contributing to the development's success. The University has set high standards for sustainability across the development, and is committed to delivering environmental best practice in the long term while mitigating the short-term impact during the construction period.

Faithful+Gould is providing an environmental auditing process in support of these aims and it's my job to carry out the audits on site. All seven contractor companies have signed up to working in this way, and I assess their progress in the following areas:

  • Environmental processes
  • Biodiversity
  • Pollution prevention and control
  • Noise pollution
  • Light and visual pollution
  • Public nuisance
  • Travel and traffic
  • Construction site impacts
  • Construction waste management
  • Materials
  • Volatile organic compounds
  • Alignment with accreditation schemes, e.g. BREEAM, CCS 
  • Environmental innovations that the contractors have pledged to deliver.

Our team has developed a series of benchmarked questions, based on planning requirements and on environmental targets that go beyond these basic requirements. I attend the site every two months, to audit each of the seven contractor companies, scoring them on their progress. The outputs of each audit are communicated to the contractor directors and the University, where good practice is noted and areas from improvement are recognised.

The North West Cambridge Development has already won a Green Apple Award (Silver) for Best Environmental Practice. The awards seek to find the greenest companies, councils and communities internationally, and the University of Cambridge and its site-wide infrastructure contractor - Skanska, have been commended for their ambitions and implementation so far.

The North West Cambridge Development has already won a Green Apple Award (Silver) for Best Environmental Practice.

Environmental innovations at the development include a district heating network and underground waste management system; the UK's largest rainwater recycling system, and a temporary construction Sustainable Urban Drainage System to maximise the retention of surface water run-off. This uses the collected winter water for dust suppression and watering of plants in the summer.

Environmental measures enhance the site's local ecology too. A new tunnel was installed underneath one of the entry routes, to enable great crested newts to access habitat and breeding ponds on either side of the road. Artificial kingfisher nest boxes, a suitable habitat for water voles, and features to encourage roosting bats have also been incorporated.

Faithful+Gould's appointment on the Cambridge North West Development includes: client representative, strategic cost and construction design and management (CDM) health and safety advisors, and environmental auditors. We're also working with the University's estates management team to develop an overall approach to sustainable construction, to be produced as a manual for use on all capital projects. Some of the manual's principles - such as early life cycle cost advice – are already in use on two of the University's estate masterplans.

We are proud to play a part in enabling the University of Cambridge to achieve sustainable construction aims, and we anticipate supporting other higher education clients seeking similarly leading-edge standards.

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