Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum from Sir John Egan

1.  Are the conclusions of the Barker Review compatible with the general principles of sustainable development and the Government's own sustainable development objectives?

  It is possible to build an extra 125,000 houses each year within the Government's sustainable development policies. However, the system will have to improve enormously. The performance over the last 40 years has been so poor that large improvements will be required in the planning system, building performance and in the development industry's own performance.

2.  In view of the Barker Review is there a need for an overarching national strategy to ensure that the environment is at the heart of any building programme?

The sustainable communities agenda is robust and should ensure that the needs of both people and the environment will be put at the heart of the building programme. The concept of what has to be done is clear and the sustainable communities agenda is compatible with the needs of the population. However, much higher standards in the skills of leadership, vision for the future, urban coding, infrastructure planning and much higher standards for house building will be required to make this possible.

3.  Is the current planning system robust enough to ensure that the environmental implications of building projects are fully taken into account? How can the planning system be used to increase the building of more sustainable housing? Would the proposed changes to the planning system in the Barker Review have a positive or negative effect on the environment?

  The current planning system is currently not robust enough but planned changes will allow for improvements. However improvements to the system will only take us so far, and we will require skilled people to deliver sustainable communities. My report on Sustainability Skills found there are currently not enough people with the right skills to build sustainable communities. It also pointed to the need for all people involved in building communities to share a common goal and vision to deliver sustainable communities.

4.  Where will the proposed new housing be built? What are the implications for land-use and flood risk of the large-scale proposed building projects?

  New communities can be rapidly created wherever there is good transport infrastructure into Central London, otherwise most of the increases will be achieved by adding to existing communities. Most communities could be expanded in size if the population trusted the planning system to deliver benefits.

  The key issue in relation to flood risk is for the Environment Agency, the Association of British Insurers, planners and builders to work closely together.

5.  Is it possible to ensure materials and resources used, and waste produced, during building do not have a harmful impact on the environment?

  Yes it is possible. However, the supply systems and building methods in place will have to change radically to allow for that to happen. In "Rethinking Construction" we set the target that productivity could be increased by at least 10% per annum and waste reduced by 10% per annum. We also proposed that defects in projects should be reduced by 20% a year.

6.  Are the building regulations as they stand capable of ensuring that new housing is truly sustainable in the long term? How could they be improved? Could greater use be made of existing environmental standards for housing?

  In my Skills report, I recommended the development of a code for sustainable buildings. I invited the Sustainable Buildings Task Group to take this up and I understand the Government is now taking this forward.

7.  How will it be possible to ensure a sustainable infrastructure, including transport and water supply, which will be necessary to support any extensive house building, is put in place?

  The ODPM Sustainable Communities plan sets the core agenda. However, it is necessary to have joined up government at national, regional and local level to enable the infrastructure to be delivered at the right time.

8.  Do those involved in housing supply, both in the public and private sector, have the necessary skills and training to ensure new housing meets environmental objectives? If not, how can the knowledge base of those involved in the planning and building process be improved?

  My report found the need for new skills within the industry, starting with leadership and vision for the future. The new standards will need to be introduced gradually over time in order to allow the industry to respond.

October 2004

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