Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 66)



  Q60  Mr Challen: Skyscrapers in Leeds are popular, they are building more of them. I just wanted to ask about the attitude and practices of British house builders compared with house builders on the  Continent, particularly in Germany and Scandinavia. Do you think that we are well ahead of those people or well behind them?

  Mr King: All the evidence suggests that we are well behind in terms of the quality of our buildings and in many cases the level of our regulations but there are important cultural differences as well. In many parts of Continental Europe people are much more involved in the process of deciding what form of house they want and in many cases it is much more common for people to acquire a plot and then to choose what kind of house they want to build on it. They are much more engaged in the process rather than being on the receiving end of what a house builder gives them, which is more characteristic of house builders in the UK.

  Q61  Mr Challen: House builders may not have such large land banks as British house builders acquire?

  Mr King: That is probably right although I do not have any particular information on that.

  Q62  Joan Walley: I think you have covered some of the issues I waned to raise on the Sustainable Buildings Task Group and I noted your comments about your worry about the Code being watered down. Is there anything that can be done to prevent it being watered down?

  Mr King: I think there is a very broad consensus now around the idea that we should not be building new homes that do not achieve the sorts of standards of, let's say, the EcoHomes "very good" level of standards. That was the proposal from the Sustainable Buildings Task Group to the Government in terms of how it should interpret the recommendation for a code for sustainability. Anything less than that, as I have said, will be no different from the status quo. It will be a change of language rather than substance. We have already had, as I have said, the Housing Corporation committed to the lower standards, which is an advance over the private sector at the moment, and we have the commitment of English Partnerships, so I would have to say if we are going to water down the Code of Sustainability, what is the point?

  Q63  Joan Walley: Are you hopeful that most of the recommendations are going to be taken up?

  Mr King: I certainly hope so. What was gratifying was that there was such cross-party, cross-sector support for the recommendations within the group, which included mainstream house builders among others, when they were delivered to government. Certainly the recommendations were well received by the Housing Minister and when I pressed him, given his enthusiastic response, as to when we might expect to see the Code for Sustainable Buildings implemented and would we see that by the time of the proposed Sustainable Communities summit in January, he said he thought that was a fair target for government to aspire to.

  Q64  Joan Walley: Can I just turn to Andrew Stunell's Private Member's Bill on Sustainable Buildings because I know you have supported that. Do you feel it has in its current form and the form it looks likely to be taken on to the statute book, assuming all goes well, been watered down at all or do you think there are concerns about that Bill?

  Mr King: I hope not. We are optimistic at the moment that that Bill will be on the way to Royal Assent in the autumn. We believe that by far and away the most important aspect of that Bill is the enabling powers it gives to the Buildings Act and therefore for the building regulations to address legitimately the issues of sustainability across a broader range of issues, and we think that is critical. Obviously what is all important is that if that Bill does pass into law that very quickly the Government responds by introducing the kind of regulations that actually have been sitting waiting for some attention for some time.

  Q65  Joan Walley: How soon do you think those regulations could be there to be enforced?

  Mr King: I think a lot of those recommendations have already been drafted. We produced a report in conjunction with the Town and Country Planning Association earlier last year and, as I have said, when we presented the recommendations for specific amendments to the building regulations they were warmly welcomed by the ODPM building regulations division. We believe that team has been very co-operative with us in supporting the Bill thus far and we believe that quite a lot of work has already been done in drafting some of those regulations, so we would like to see the majority of those regulations in place by the end of 2005.

  Q66  Joan Walley: In a nutshell what improvements do you think that will bring?

  Mr King: I think it will send a very strong signal to the industry that the Government is in a regulatory sense serious about improving standards of sustainability in construction. There are important aspects to do with the use of materials which really are not sufficiently catered for at the moment such as building on the existing water regulations to improve the provision for greater water efficiency and other areas. So I think it will send an important signal. Having said that, I would not want to overstate the importance in a sense that we still anticipate that that will be a regulatory floor rather than aspiring to the sorts of standards that we actually believe are necessary.

  Chairman: Okay, thank you very much indeed.

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