Greener buildings good for industry, consumers and planet – Robert Napier

It is time to debunk the myth that building homes to a higher environmental standard will always increase the cost, according to Robert Napier, chairman of the Homes & Communities Agency.

Speaking at green construction tradeshow Ecobuild, Mr Napier pointed out that we have just six years to go to meet government targets of ensuring all newly-built homes are zero carbon and claimed policy makers are currently wrestling with two problems in this area.

“The first of course is the recession,” he said.

“Confidence today does remain fragile – hence we find some house builders are lobbying hard on an anti-regulation ticket not to impose higher standards at this time.

“Fortunately there are leaders in other parts of the industry already building to Level 4. It’s economic to do so because they see the direction of travel and they see the advantage in the marketplace for having that sort of product.

“The second problem is the widely held belief that there’s a trade off between volume and quality.

“At a time when housing starts are so far below projected need and waiting lists are growing around the country you can imagine where much of the balance of argument lies between volume and quality.

“This is where we need political support to come to the right balance – there are three strong arguments for doing so.

“Firstly let’s think of the consumer, the people that are going to live in these homes. A low carbon home will have lower energy and water bills, be a nicer home in which to live.

“Secondly we’ve got to debunk the mantra that moves to build homes to higher environmental standards will always increase costs.

“If the direction of travel is clear and there’s a level playing field it will be in the interest of industry to innovate, to go up the experience curve and significantly drive down these costs.

“Thirdly there’s a really important argument to simplify the whole standards procedure so we can be seen to supporting deregulation not imposing regulation.”

He said that we would need to tackle existing housing stock too, with retrofitting for every home in the UK adding up to something in the region of £200bn to £400bn.

While an off putting figure, he said, we needed to grasp the nettle and get works underway.

“That’s a lot of money, but I believe it is win-win to do so,” he said.

“It’s good for the planet, it’s good for the occupier, it’s good for employment.”

His full speech can be seen here.

Sam Bond

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