UK housing must break regenerate-decay cycle

The Government dream of sustainable communities will remain just that until the construction industry becomes more engaged in the process.

This is the message of a study commissioned by one of the UK’s major building contractors.

The report, Failing Communities: Breaking the Cycle, has been published by the Wates Group and claims that changes within the construction industry are needed now to prevent the waste of billions of pounds of investment on buildings that will need to be demolished and rebuilt again within 30 years.

It argues that most of the major construction programmes designed to create ‘sustainable communities’ are pre-programmed to fail and tax incentives are necessary to encourage environmentally friendly building design.

It finds that while there is much talk about the supporting factors needed in built environments, real life procurement and construction industry practices are not matching the rhetoric.

The study claims that this is likely to continue until policy makers translate theories into hard practical actions at procurer and construction company level and measure and reward best practice.

The Wates Report says that procurement authorities and the construction industry have no commonly understood and single set of financial, environmental and social performance measures, based on whole life costs, for public sector programmes – school building being the exception to this rule.

Its authors argue that failure to establish and police such measures will mean that most non-PFI public sector construction programmes will continue to be driven by the need to keep short term costs low, with future generations paying the price of poor environmental practices and buildings that are unfit for purpose within 30 years.

Paul Drechsler, CEO of Wates, said; “The majority of sustainability programmes will fail unless the construction industry gets more engaged.

“You won’t, for example, achieve high density housing that is acceptable to the public until the construction industry actions things like better soundproofing and easy to maintain materials.

“And you won’t get flexible buildings until the construction industry routinely locates stairwells and plumbing in places which allow future generations to change internal lay outs to accommodate more or fewer households or different uses.”

More high density housing, greater flexibility and a reduction in mono-culture housing are amongst a number of recommendations that the Wates Report has in common with reports from bodies such as The Sustainable Development Corporation and the Urban Task Force.

The report argues, however, that the UK will remain trapped in a 30 year cycle of regeneration and decay until all parties in the procurement, design, build and maintenance process are rewarded on the basis of measures of a development’s whole of life financial and environmental cost.

In order for this to happen, performance measures need putting in place that itemise the practical key components of a sustainable development across the supply chain.

The report calls for immediate changes in the way that construction companies and the supply chain identify and communicate environmental information, cost projects, consult local communities and work together.

It also argues that Government intervention is required in the form of tax incentives to drive improvements in waste management, water harvesting and CO2 emissions.

They call for amendments to EU legislation to accommodate the social benefits of using local suppliers on long-term development programmes.

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