Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence


Memorandum from NHBC

  1.1  NHBC is the UK's leading warranty and insurance provider for new homes. Established more than 65 years ago, our role is to raise standards in the new house-building industry and provide consumer protection for new house buyers.

  1.2  NHBC's 10-year Buildmark cover provides the most comprehensive protection for new homes in the UK. There are approximately 1.7 million homes currently covered by the policy and there were more than 170,000 Buildmark certificates issued to new homebuyers in the last year.


  2.1  NHBC supports a positive approach to sustainability and is actively involved in enabling and facilitating the improvement in the environmental performance of the house-building industry and new homes, their built environment and its supporting infrastructure. An appendix showing some of the areas in which we are involved follows our submission.

  2.2  One of the key strands of sustainable development is "social progress which recognises the needs of everyone". The effect of the vast under-supply of housing in the UK is that many people are unable to "get a foot" on the housing ladder. If more new homes are to be built to address the consequent social need, then it is essential that we take account of all relevant environmental considerations.

  2.3  Amongst other things, sustainable principles demand that houses will not require replacement or major repairs prematurely—this avoids waste of building materials, effort and energy. NHBC's fundamental role is to ensure the quality of new homes. NHBC works to ensure that new-built and converted homes are designed and constructed in accordance with good technical standards so that increasing housing output does not lead to a reduction in the quality, widespread failure, and the need for wasteful repair or reconstruction.


  3.1  NHBC is actively involved in the growing use of modern methods of construction by the house-building industry. NHBC supports those robust and well-researched changes in house-building technology which lead to more efficient construction. However, based on our extensive experience we also know precisely why it is important to balance the advantages with potential risks. Some modern methods, such as the thousands of well-performing, well-designed timber frame and steel frame systems in the UK, have little risk of technical failure attached.

  3.2  We do however, need to raise awareness in the industry of how seemingly innocuous design changes to even these relatively well established systems can lead to technical risk.

  3.3  A good recent example is the collapse of the housing warranty programme in British Columbia, Canada, which was the direct result of a few simple but ill-considered design changes to an established form of timber frame construction leading to massive failures. Worryingly, the same technical failure has now been witnessed in parts of the USA and in New Zealand.

  3.4  An example nearer home is the legacy of many PRC (precast reinforced concrete) houses and LPS (large panel system) flats built up to the 1960s. These have not proved as satisfactory in use or as durable as other homes using "traditional" methods built during the same period, and many have already been demolished or have required extensive repair.

  3.5  NHBC Standards take a positive and pro-active approach in such areas, to ensure good performance in use and so make a valuable contribution to sustainability.


  4.1  The opportunity to create viable new homes from worn out existing buildings shouldn't be overlooked and "recycling" in this way is a positive response to the challenge of building sustainable homes. A growing number of examples of highly successful conversion and renovation schemes across the country have helped to regenerate local communities.

  4.2  Homes registered through NHBC's Conversions and Renovations Scheme are assessed and converted or renovated in accordance with good technical standards and inspected as works progress by our experienced inspectors. We seek to ensure high quality housing not requiring premature repair. The principles applied, such as by the NHBC scheme (with the benefit of its ten-year warranty), should be encouraged for all conversion and renovation projects.


  5.1  We would strongly recommend that the appropriate tool for assessing the sustainability of homes is BRE's "EcoHomes", which is based directly on BREEAM and, together with its companion "Green Guide to Housing Specification" was sponsored by NHBC. NHBC provided funding and worked with BRE, industry and stakeholders to ensure a living tool capable of ongoing development as knowledge advanced. It has taken only three or four years to become well established, being both understood by the industry and a requirement in most social housing.

  5.2  The rating scheme provides the flexibility necessary for designers to ensure that all their developments achieve enhanced levels of performance, and could sit alongside SAP in the Building Regulations as a means of demonstrating compliance in the field of sustainability. We also note that the Sustainable Buildings Task Group has recently recommended to Government that a Code of Sustainable Building based on BREEAM (including EcoHomes) be adopted.


  6.  Finally, we believe that an over-arching national strategy will be essential to achieve the imperative of major advances in the field of sustainability. We see a pressing need for the complementary functions of planning and building control to be clarified and focused within such strategy to eliminate confusion, contradiction and overlap, particularly as building regulations move to embrace sustainability explicitly for the first time.

  7.  As can be seen from our response, NHBC has a long history setting and overseeing the application of standards for new homes, and is also involved in a wide range of activities impacting on sustainability. If, therefore, the Committee would like to explore any issue further with us, whether in writing or in person, we would be happy to make the necessary arrangements.

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