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Exclusive Interview with MEP Cuffe

Fire Safe Europe

29 Jun 2021

An energy-efficient and fire-safe Renovation Wave for a safer European community

On 17 September 2020, the Own-Initiative Report on Maximising the Energy Efficiency Potential of the EU Building Stock was adopted in Plenary in the European Parliament with 526 votes in favour, 77 against and 94 abstentions. As Rapporteur on the report and active actor for better fire safety in the EU, Mr Ciarán Cuffe MEP agreed to share his views on energy-efficient and fire-safe renovations.

1. The 2018 EPBD, in Article 2a and Article 7, encourages Member States to address fire safety in major renovations and also in their Long Term Renovation Strategies (LTRS) strategies. The INI Report you drafted goes further in particular by encouraging the Member States to consider fire safety aspects throughout the whole building life-cycle. Why did you feel adding this dimension was necessary? And was it difficult to secure agreement on that paragraph?

It was necessary, considering that fire safety is an important part of the life cycle of any building. One of the topics I wanted to address in my report was improving community needs, and safe buildings are central to healthy communities. The Grenfell tragedy in the UK really highlighted that if communities are neglected and do not have up to date fire safety measures and equipment, the results can be tragic. I think that it was not a difficult message to get across the different political groups in the European Parliament. When dealing with fire safety, you are potentially dealing with people’s lives, so it is important to have a united political position.

2. Only a third of EU Member States LTRS, available in English, mentions fire safety. Would the 2021 EPBD Revision be an opportunity to strengthen the 2018 EPBD fire safety provisions to encourage deep renovations at the national level, namely renovations that simultaneously improve energy efficiency and other factors central to EU citizens’ well-being, like fire safety?

There are many instruments that can be included in the EPBD revision which can be used to encourage safer buildings. Deep renovations and minimum energy performance standards can be designed in order to provide targeted solutions to vulnerable groups. These measures would phase out the worst-performing buildings and increase the safety standards of those living at risk of energy poverty. These instruments can also provide safeguards against the risk of fires as they require constant monitoring of a building’s infrastructure to ensure that the appropriate energy efficiency and fire safety measures are in place.

3. In your INI Report, you mention the importance of relevant competencies of professionals involved during design, construction and renovation when it comes to fire safety. What should be the steps taken to ensure the needed competencies are developed and implemented?

I think that this all comes down to training and upskilling. We need to focus on EU skills in the renovation and building sector in order to encourage people to engage in retraining, upskilling and capacity building. By increasing the renovation rate in Europe, we automatically create new green jobs. The people in these jobs need proper training. With proper training, we can stress the importance of fire safety measures within the sector. There is an opportunity to do this with the Member States through the Skills Agenda and the Pact for Skills.

4. Emphasis is put under the EUGD on reducing carbon emissions, in particular in the construction sector. How could improved fire safety contribute to this objective?

Any renovation of a building should automatically include an upgrade of fire safety standards. An increase in the number of renovations across the EU would have the dual benefits of better energy efficiency and better fire safety standards. Being conscious of the types of materials that are used in renovations to ensure that they are in line with fire safety standards is a good example of how the two areas interlink. Furthermore, in my report on renovations in the EU building stock, I underlined the need to plan renovation projects in order to achieve synergies in fire safety along with other areas of building integration such as grid connection and on-site renewables.

5. Based on your work on energy efficiency and fire safety, how would you like to see the EU Recovery Fund invested at the Member States level? Do you think tying funds attribution to specific conditions, such as fire safety requirements, could be an opportunity to improve the fire safety of the EU building stock?

That could definitely be an option. On an EU level, we need to put pressure on the Member States to include their local authorities with regard to the use of the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). I believe that local authorities are central to cracking the decarbonisation of buildings. There is a slight lack of willingness on the part of Member States to involve local authorities. The RRF does mention that cities and regions should be included in the distribution of the national recovery plans, but we have not seen things develop past this language. My position has always been to involve regional groups in the allocation of EU Regional funds- in my recent report on the Renovation Wave; I called for a community approach when it came to the funding and planning of renovation projects. This would mean a bottom-up approach whereby the EU facilitates the development of projects that would be dealt with at an EU level. Before attaching any specific requirements to the RRF, we have to make sure that it is going to the right people. I am hoping that Ireland’s strategy strongly targets public housing. Many social housing tenants experience energy poverty, and energy upgrades, if done correctly, can alleviate energy poverty, improve fire safety, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

6. As a Member of the European Parliament, what would be your fire safety priorities for this year when it comes to the EU Green Deal’s policies?

In terms of my fire safety priorities, I would highlight the need to ensure that a building’s wider infrastructure is up to the highest possible energy efficiency and safety standards. As an architect, I understand the importance of a building’s infrastructure in its overall energy performance. I know that we can use the revision of the EPBD as a vehicle to drive forward the decarbonisation of buildings, specifically, the heating and cooling sector. This means ensuring our building materials are safe, sustainable, and fit for future use. There is a big benefit in linking fire safety standards to the environmental standards of buildings. That way, as our buildings go greener, so do their safety standards. I think we can enshrine these principles in the EPBD and the Energy Efficiency Directive in their upcoming revisions.

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