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25 January 2013 | Posted by Andy Thompson
Cambridge City Council Planning Committee has resolved to grant approval for 5th Studio's green retrofit of Grade I listed New Court at Trinity College after three years of design development, research and consultation with Cambridge City Council and English Heritage officers.
As well as being listed in the highest tier, New Court is located within a Grade II Registered Park and Garden and within the Historic Core Conservation Area.

New Court was built between 1823-5 to a 'Tudor Gothic' design by William Wilkins in response to the growing numbers of undergraduates. It has continued to be used as undergraduate accommodation, being continually adapted and modified to meet changing requirements. Today New Court houses a significant proportion of the College's undergraduate population. Having been in constant use, the accommodation is in need of significant upgrades in order to meet current environmental health and fire regulations. The building also performs very poorly, and the need to improve its energy efficiency and thermal performance has been a key objective of the project.

At the outset, Beacon Planning prepared an initial assessment of heritage significance to establish the key values of the building. This was used to inform the ensuing project proposals which involved over three years of iterative design development, regular liaison with conservation staff at English Heritage and Cambridge City Council and the continuing refinement of the proposals to achieve an acceptable balance between enhancing the building's performance – both in terms of its energy efficiency as well as its role as a building in which to live and work – whilst preserving the heritage significance of the building.

The final scheme approved by Planning Committee on Wednesday 9 January will refurbish the building to provide 133 study bedrooms, including 21 ensuite, and a further 4 fully accessible ensuite double bedrooms. It will also provide a seminar room, tutorial offices, teaching rooms, Fellow's rooms and residential Fellows' sets. Other enhancements include the replacement of the external render that over the years has become patchy through piecemeal repair work.

As part of the refurbishment, a suite of sustainability measures are proposed that are calculated to reduce annual carbon emissions by 88%, and reduce energy use by 75%. These include: refurbishing the window frames and installing double-glazed panes into the existing joinery; installing insulation to the internal face of the external walls; the use of a mechanical ventilation heat recovery system; installing photovoltaic panels to a south facing (and least significant) roof slope; and installing a ground source heat pump fed by boreholes approved in the courtyard.

A key component of the design process included extensive monitoring and modelling of the building in order to understand better the building physics and the impact of the proposals on the building fabric. Examples of such research include extensive WUFI modelling, materials testing of samples from the building itself, installing a weather station to corroborate climate data, and monitoring the building's existing temperature and moisture levels. As well as providing interesting results and data for this research field, these extensive exercises have minimised the risk to the building fabric as far as reasonably possible.

It is recognised that these proposals are ambitious in their scope and context, and this has pushed the design and consultant team to undertake a lengthy and extensive design development process. Along with the technical building physics research, this has included constructing a to-scale mock-up of a typical study bedroom as proposed, as well as a trial window with double-glazed panes. This exceptional development process was acknowledged and welcomed by Members, who were reassured that this was indeed a carefully considered scheme.

These proposals have been under intensive scrutiny by English Heritage and Cambridge City Council, as well as an independent consultant to verify the technical results of the building physics work. This has resulted in amendments to the design both pre and post submission of the application. Despite our (and now Planning Committee's) confidence that the proposals constitute an acceptable compromise between enhancing sustainability whilst preserving heritage significance, English Heritage have remained concerned by the application primarily with regard to the double-glazing proposals and the installation of the photovoltaics. The application therefore has now got to be passed to the National Planning Casework Unit for scrutiny before the listed building consent can be granted. We are hopeful however that work will start on site later this year.