Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from the House Builders Federation


Available figures on the number of private housing completions over the last five years, together with a breakdown of the type of properties being built (by number of bedrooms and densities). Does this information exist on a regional basis?

  This information is largely available from published sources. We are attaching a separate note (annex A) analysing the key trends over recent years. The main points to note are the increase in the proportion of flats being built, the increased use of previously developed land for housing, increased density and a reduction in the number of four or more bedroom houses.

What work you as trade association are carrying out to promote best practice and the use of sustainable construction methods to your members?

  HBF is currently undertaking a wide range of initiatives to promote best practice and sustainable construction.

  As mentioned in our evidence to the Committee's inquiry on 7 July, the Federation is working on a proposed Sectoral Sustainability Strategy. The strategy would prospectively address nine key areas in which the industry's activity relates to the achievement of sustainable development:

    —  Effective use of developable land.

    —  Effective and efficient use of materials.

    —  Minimising energy consumption.

    —  Encouraging Innovation (for example, Modern Methods of Construction).

    —  Improving skills.

    —  Respecting people.

    —  Enhancing the created built environment.

    —  Water minimisation and management (including Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems).

    —  Minimising pollution.

  The main aims of this strategy would be to draw together, promote and support best practice in the industry through developing case studies, best practice guides and showcase events. The strategy would also prospectively envisage areas of collaboration with related supply chain associations to maximise the sustainable supply and production of new housing. In addition we wish to promote collaboration with other stakeholders to maximise the sustainability of the current and future housing stock in the UK.

  Besides setting out broad objectives in these areas, the strategy would envisage establishing Key Performance Indicators against which the industry could judge its progress in future.

  Given the Federation's commitment to taking forward such a strategy, we have qualified for membership of WWF's One Million Sustainable Homes Task Force and are participating actively in that group.

  In the field of planning, the HBF has supported the development of the "South East Sustainability Checklist" developed by the Building Research Establishment for SEERA. The checklist is a tool that gives a score for proposed developments covering sustainability in terms of their environmental impact, the local economy and community. It can usefully show areas where builders perform relatively well and not so well by breaking down performance into key areas. Using the checklist a firm may find that while performing relatively well overall it can still focus in discussion with the planning authorities on improving aspects of a proposed development where the survey shows it not doing so well.

  The SE checklist is currently being used as a model for rolling out similar checklists across the English regions over the next two years. HBF is fully supporting this initiative as a means of promoting a consistent and practical approach to achieving sustainable development.

  Evidence shows that the industry has adapted well to recent planning requirements relating to sustainability. NHBC data shows that the proportion of new registrations that are detached houses has fallen sharply since the start of 2000 (from 53% to 31%), while the number of new registrations that are flats has doubled for 19% to 38%. Concurrently, the take-up of previously developed land for new developments has risen sharply. ODPM data shows that the proportion of new dwellings built on brownfield sites has risen from 51% in 1994 to 63% in 2002, and a provisional 66% in 2003.

  Another important field within which the Federation actively promotes best practice is design. In association with CABE and the Civic Trust, HBF is one of the founding partners in the "Building for Life" (BfL) initiative whose overall objective is to promote design excellence in new housing.

  HBF has adopted a "Manifesto" commitment to good design principles under BfL that we promote to our members.

  The BfL partners have also adopted a BfL "standard" that is awarded to projects demonstrating high quality design. The standard is based on 20 criteria covering the main aspects of good design including the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability.

  The criteria include whether the development has features that reduce its environmental impact, whether it promotes security, whether the scheme has made uses of advances in construction/technology, how positively it uses the existing topography and site features and knits with surrounding areas, the promotion of flexible use and a range of tenures and types of accommodation. A scheme that fulfils 70% of the criteria receives a "Silver Standard" and one that achieves 80% receives a "Gold Standard". Gold schemes form a shortlist for the annual "Building for Life Platinum Award", presented to one scheme of outstanding merit. Although the standard was only launched in July 2003, some 21 projects have already been awarded a silver or gold standard.

  We believe BfL is an important initiative that is central to the promotion of sustainable development and sustainable housing projects. We are therefore continuing to give priority to this initiative and are actively discussing with our partners how we can further increase its effectiveness for the future. These discussions are also likely to be a significant contribution to the industry response to the conclusions of the Barker Review itself.

  HBF is also seeking to promote sustainability in other important areas. We are currently discussing with the ODPM ways in which the new National Centre for Sustainable Community Skills can best work with industry among other stakeholders to achieve the skills capacity required to deliver sustainable development in the future. In addition we are discussing with the Construction Industry Training Board ways in which it can help deliver training and support that is needed to achieve sustainability skills required in the wider house building workforce.

  Through membership of the Housing Forum (part of Constructing Excellence) we are promoting best practice to the industry—for example, via case studies of best practice and guides for the industry, including one due to be published in the near future on managing apprenticeships.

  Following our evidence to the Committee we have also taken the initiative to be involved directly in the group that will be developing the Code for Sustainable Building the Government has agreed to establish following the recommendations of the Sustainable Buildings Task Group this spring.

The Committee would also be very interested in receiving a copy of your response to the consultation on the Building Regulations that is due shortly.

  Due to the need to engage in extensive consultation with our members we have not yet completed our response to the current consultation on proposed changes to Part L of the Building Regulations (energy efficiency). We would, however, be pleased to send this to the Committee when it is available—probably in the second half of October consistent with the public consultation timetable.

  The Committee may meanwhile be interested to hear of the independent study by Elmhurst Energy that has shown that new homes are up to six times or more efficient in terms of energy use compared to a home built in 1900. The table at Annex B shows the results of the study for the cost of space and water heating, comparing a 1900 built home with one built in 2002, with different scenarios in terms of heating methods and insulation. Even with insulation improvements and condensing gas and central heating, the 1900 built home is less energy efficient than the most basic model of a 2002 built home.

  Otherwise in terms of the performance of new housing we would wish to point out that the industry is pro-active in developing ways of achieving greater sustainability. In some cases these efforts are themselves hindered by the regulatory framework and HBF and its members are in such instances pressing Government to remove barriers to better performance. A good example, of such circumstances concerns drainage where the industry is seeking to use SUDS—Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems. SUDS are drainage systems that use a mixture of drainage components that are integrated throughout the scheme to mimic the natural drainage of greenfield sites by using soft landscaped drainage techniques instead of hard engineering solutions. The aim is to reduce flows to existing sewers, reduce the impact on water courses, reduce surface run-off, reduce the environmental impact and reduce diffuse pollution (treats first flush from storms). Maximising the opportunities for the use of SUDS will, however, require changes to the regulations governing connection to sewerage systems and we are seeking greater progress in this area from the Government.

  Elsewhere the industry is also investing in solutions to achieve greater flood resilience and to advance Modern Methods of Construction. There is also scope to make greater use of recycling opportunities for aggregates arising from brownfield remediation. In this latter case too, however, maximising such opportunities will be dependent on getting the regulatory climate right and we are therefore actively discussing with Government the need for suitable thinking to inform the new waste management and landfill regulations. These regulations will impact more generally on the costs and practicality of brownfield remediation, including developing best practice, and we have current concerns that their impending revision has yet to fully take account of what is required to promote both the volume of remediation and future advances in its sustainability.

September 2004

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