Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from WWF

Response to specific questions from the Environmental Committee following WWF's Oral Evidence Session, 16 July 2004

  1.  Are there any standards, other than EcoHomes, for sustainable housing that you have looked at? If so how do they compare to the EcoHomes standard?

  At the start of the One Million Sustainable Homes (OMSH) campaign, WWF initiated a stakeholder dialogue to identify the barriers to sustainable homes and ways to overcome them. WWF consulted with around 350 stakeholders from across a wide range of sectors. One of the key barriers cited by respondents was the perceived lack of consensus around a definition for sustainable homes.

  WWF asked stakeholders, which, in their view, was the current "best" standard available to assess sustainable homes, and the result was resounding support for the EcoHomes standard. WWF received clear feedback from respondents that the OMSH campaign should build upon EcoHomes, which was already well established and recognised by the industry, rather than adding to the confusion by developing a new standard. Respondents indicated that EcoHomes is not perfect, but they felt that one of its most important features is its commitment to an annual review by a multi-sector steering group. Therefore it undergoes refinement and improvement every year.

  There are a number of tools which make partial assessments of sustainability including Arup's SPeAR, National Green Specification (NGS) and Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) in the US. However, in the UK EcoHomes is the most holistic environmental assessment method for homes currently available.

  2.  You have expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the Sustainable Buildings Task Group. This has concluded that a new Code for Sustainable Buildings (CSB) should be based on BRE's existing standard (BREEAM and EcoHomes). In your view is this because it is undoubtedly the best approach for setting standards for construction, or is partly due to the fact that it is already in existence and therefore a relatively easy option?

  WWF believes that the new CSB should be based on BRE's BREEAM and EcoHomes standards and that the minimum requirement for all public procurement of housing should be equivalent to EcoHomes "Very Good" standard. Anything less would be no different from the status quo, and would defeat the purpose of having the CSB in the first place.

  WWF believes BREEAM and EcoHomes is undoubtedly the best approach for several reasons. Firstly, the Government, construction industry and BRE have invested heavily in the development of the BREEAM standards over many years and the result is a suite of well-researched tools which measure environmental performance in a holistic way. The tools are based on practical experience and implementation, and are supported and widely used by the construction industry.

  Secondly, many organisations including those in the public and private sector are already committed to the use of BREEAM/EcoHomes on all developments. These include Countryside Properties, SEEDA (South East England Development Agency), Housing Corporation, English Partnerships, and Office of Government Commerce.

  Many developers have now used the BREEAM/EcoHomes standards and are increasingly familiar with them, and have invested in resources and capacity to help them deliver (eg they have in-house EcoHomes trained assessors). WWF believes it is vital that the industry is provided with a "level playing field" and given clear and consistent messages about the standards they will be required to meet. Developing the CSB in line with BREEAM/EcoHomes will build upon the requirements of the agencies listed above, and ensure that the industry is not asked to learn about and deliver an entirely new set of requirements.

  Thirdly, BRE has developed a comprehensive training and assessment programme to ensure the delivery and quality assurance of the BREEAM standards. It is difficult to imagine how Government will assess the CSB if it is required to set up a completely new system of training, assessment and certification. It is important to note that making use of the BREEAM assessors will avoid burdening already over-stretched planning and building control officers with extra responsibility for checking compliance with the CSB.

  Therefore to invent a completely new standard would be "reinventing the wheel" and would add unnecessary financial cost and inconvenience to the development and implementation of the CSB. Indeed, to invent a new standard would, in our view, be a serious waste of resources and a major set back in terms of time.

  3.  What improvements would you like to see in the proposed CSB, in comparison to EcoHomes?

  WWF would support the recommendations of the Sustainable Buildings Task Group that the CSB should require minimum standards to meet in certain key areas, particularly resource efficiency criteria. WWF would like to see the timber credit improved, based on the outcome of the independent assessment of different timber certification schemes being undertaken by the Central Point of Expertise on Timber (CPET). WWF would also welcome the expansion of the health and well-being section to include assessment of endocrine disrupting chemicals in building materials and furnishings where possible. WWF has discussed with BRE the need for a review of the weightings of EcoHomes to ensure they are based on objectively verifiable priorities.

  4.  You also agreed to send us any information you have on what percentage of housebuilders' costs are represented by 106 agreements.

  Unfortunately, given the short time available, WWF is not able to provide the above information. We would recommend consulting house builders and local authority planning departments on this issue.

July 2004

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