The recent difference of opinion between the Sustainable Buildings Task Group and the House Builders Federation has been interesting.
The task group wants to crank up the sustainable performance of housing and the HBF is arguing that this should be stopped as it could add £3000 to the cost of a three-bedroom semi.

Without having seen the details of the task group's recommendations, we cannot comment in detail on these figures, but our research would suggest that energy savings of the order being considered could be achieved significantly more cheaply than estimates in recent articles suggest. More to the point, we disagree that sustainability targets will slow development in the Thames Gateway or elsewhere. This is because, although it is easily possible to spend an additional £3000 or indeed £30,000 on achieving a more sustainable home, it is equally possible to make major improvements in performance at a fraction of this cost.

For regeneration schemes, English Partnerships already requires a minimum of a "very good" rating under the BRE Eco Homes scheme and is seeking "excellent" ratings in many cases. There appears to be no major shortage of developers for these sites. Provided the right approach is taken to basic design and procurement issues, a very good standard of performance can be achieved for minimal additional expenditure.

The key is to think about how performance standards will be achieved as early as you can in the development process.

With the scale of development planned for Thames Gateway over coming years, it would a tragedy if this were allowed to proceed on a business-as-usual basis – but it is important to remember that there is a massive difference between achieving a high standard of environmental and sustainability performance and trying to be carbon neutral (à la BedZED).

What the task group appears to be asking is for developers to think seriously about the housing they envisage producing for Thames Gateway, and to commit to producing high-quality, well-designed homes. The task group is not asking for developers to rip up all existing products and head off into unknown territory.

Rather than try to hold back the inexorable tide of sustainability, housebuilders should be thinking about how they can ensure that it is they, and not their competitors, who make the most of the opportunities sustainability will present.