Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 800 - 819)



  Q800  Gregory Barker: You state in your response to the recommendations for the code, "It is essential that any code is practical, cost effective and flexible enough to be achievable by all." If you are too practical, too cost effective or too flexible, you could end up with such a minimal standard that, while it might be achieved by all, achieves very little for the environment. Should not the aim be to have a  meaningful environmental benchmark for developers to aim for?

  Lord Rooker: The description you paint is a fair one. You are quite right. If you take any one of those aspects to extremes, you will fail. That is why you have to take it as a package. There has to be a balance. You will never get it 100% correct. There has to be a balance because you cannot go growing and developing without taking account of the effect on the environment. On the other hand, there might be people who say that the effect on the environment is so bad in principle we do not think you should grow any more dwellings in this country. Frankly, we reject that because that is too extreme a view. You have to take a balanced approach and if you take any one of those factors to extremes, you will undermine the overall package.

  Q801  Gregory Barker: It is the qualitative judgment of where you draw that balance.

  Lord Rooker: I am answering the question perhaps you did not ask but the one I thought you were thinking of asking.

  Q802  Chairman: What kind of balance have you on the steering group that is taking forward the code?

  Lord Rooker: Did we give you a list?

  Q803  Chairman: I do not think we have seen that.

  Lord Rooker: I do not have a list with me but I will provide you with one.

  Q804  Chairman: It has been suggested that the steering group is very heavily dominated by industry and it is an opportunity for the industry to lobby the government which would tend to suggest that it is not going to be an enormously effective code in terms of protecting the environment.

  Lord Rooker: I am not sure where you are quoting from. We are in the process of sending invites out at the moment. We do not have names on it.

  Q8055Chairman: The draft is coming out in January?

  Lord Rooker: The draft will be next January, yes.

  Q806  Gregory Barker: You are sending out the invites to serve on the steering group now?

  Lord Rooker: Yes.

  Q807  Gregory Barker: Do you think you will get people to commit to a draft by January?

  Lord Rooker: My experience in the last 18 months or two years, since the communities plan was published, is that when we have asked for help and advice from those outside, whether they be in industry, in the professions or in local government, we have had incredible support and goodwill and people prepared to give up their time and not simply tell us what we want to hear.

  Q808  Chairman: I am not surprised if they are all members of the House Builders' Federation.

  Lord Rooker: That is, with respect, a trivial remark from a chair of a select committee.

  Q809  Chairman: Who have you invited to be on it?

  Lord Rooker: Not all house builders are members of the House Builders' Federation. One of the biggest in the country is not even a member, so you cannot simply paint everyone in the same colour like that. That is very unfair.

  Chairman: Perhaps you could let us know who you have invited to be on the steering committee. That would be a start.

  Q810  Gregory Barker: When will the committee meet?

  Lord Rooker: That will be up to them. They will have terms of reference and a secretariat. When they meet will be up to them. They will not meet at ministers' dictat. Ministers will not be sitting at their elbows.

  Q811  Gregory Barker: If they are going to produce an answer in January, when do you anticipate that they will meet?

  Lord Rooker: I am not going to prejudge. You are asking me to tell professional people, mature adults, who are going to offer to do a task for the government within the communities plan context, about their detail. They will have terms of reference, a remit and a timetable that approximately we want to work to. We will let them be the best judge of how they do it.

  Q812  Mr Francois: Can you tell us who is actually on this steering committee or who the invitations have been sent to?

  Lord Rooker: No. I said I do not have a list.

  Q813  Chairman: I thought you said earlier you would send us a list.

  Lord Rooker: No, that was a list of one of the other task forces. I am sorry. There was a task force I was asked about—I think it may have been the Barker one. It is true the Building Research Establishment and the Waste Resources Action Programme and indeed the House Builders Federation, but I will make sure that all the house builders are asked   because some of the key people who are building sustainable communities, quality mixed developments, do not want anything to do with the House Builders Federation because they think their language is wrong. In other words, you cannot compartmentalise the industry just by the trade associations, if I can put it that way. We want as wide a spectrum of views from the professions in the industry as possible.

  Q814  Gregory Barker: People can draw their own conclusions on that, but if we drill down to a little bit of the detail, in response to the recommendation that there be a regulatory requirement that 10% of all materials in a project should be reclaimed, reused or recycled, John Egan told us that he thought that was a very unambitious target, but in response to that, you stated, "It is important to be confident that such a requirement does not drive procurement decisions at the expense of broader sustainability objectives." What broader sustainable objectives might count against such a moderate target? What did you have in mind when you said that?

  Lord Rooker: I could not give you an example on that. The fact of the matter is, I freely admit I have not read the exchanges with John Egan. I was astonished when I saw the figures of the amount of building materials per person used in this country. I will stand corrected because I am not sure where it was, but I know I read it was six tonnes a year, an astonishing figure. The potential for avoiding waste ought to be quite large.

  Q815  Gregory Barker: How does using more recycled, reused, or reclaimed materials, to quote you, somehow affect the broader sustainable objectives?

  Lord Rooker: I do not know. We might have to do too many imports, for example, things like that, which I do not think would be a good thing. We want as much home-grown as possible. First of all, if there is less importing, it means there is less transport anyway, so there is an effect on the environment with the weight of stuff that is moved around the world.

  Q816  Gregory Barker: You anticipate that the target for recycled, reused or reclaimed materials could be met by importing recycled materials?

  Lord Rooker: No. In fact, I was making exactly the opposite point. You asked me where we would deviate from it, and I said we might not want to import recycled materials. We might want to use stuff that is home-grown. That may affect the amount of recycled materials we use. That was the question you asked me. You asked me what were the factors that might mitigate against achieving that objective, and I said one of them might be—I do not know what the detail is—that we want more home-grown materials, and they might not be recycled and therefore we do not meet the target, but we have actually saved on imports.

  Q817  Gregory Barker: So you would sacrifice an environmental target to achieve an economic target?

  Lord Rooker: I am not rigid at 100% achieving everything. What I want to do is try and achieve the overall goal of sustainable communities. I am not going to be tied down.

  Q818  Gregory Barker: So you might not even achieve the 10% goal, which John Egan says is very unambitious, if it compromises an economic target. So really, this is about economic sustainability, not about environmental sustainability.

  Lord Rooker: No. There is a huge potential for using recycled materials, whether it is new build or whether it is in the refurbishment, in the Pathfinder areas. I have seen examples of it. I think I mentioned one when I was here before, in Sandwell, where, to avoid knocking dwellings down, to get them up to modern eco-standards, could you do it with these Victorian properties? There is an example there. A family is living in what is an experiment in terms of whether it is the doors, the windows, the floors—everything. The amount of recycled material there was just unbelievable. It was to be able to prove that. It would be very expensive for one dwelling, but it is an experiment. The potential, I think, is enormous for re-using materials.

  Q819  Gregory Barker: Why did you make that statement then?

  Lord Rooker: Because we are not prepared to be, how can I put it—too rigid. We need to build some flexibility.

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