The Sustainable Buildings Task Group. It doesn't sound like a revolutionary cabal.
Take a look at the civil servants, manufacturers and environmentalists who make it up, and it looks even less radical. However, these pyromaniacs in carpet slippers are planning to burn down government policy on housebuilding standards and replace it with something much tougher (pages 22-24). The most eye-catching proposal is that homes built in development areas such as the Thames Gateway will need to be 25% more energy efficient than required by the Building Regulations.

The House Builders Federation has signalled its members' disapproval of the measures. It argues that they are not the best way of achieving the government's primary objective, which is to reduce Britain's carbon emissions. It points out that new construction accounts for about 1% of the total building stock, and that it would make more sense to tackle existing houses, many of which are a great deal less energy-efficient than the new supply.

This may be right, but why is it either/or? Surely the government should be trying to improve the energy efficiency of both. To put it another way, what are the HBF and its members afraid of?

The recommendations, if adopted, will add something like £3000 to the average three-bed semi. Given that house price inflation is presently running at 50% in parts of the country, and that the government may be offering a rebate on stamp duty for building to sustainable standards, this is small change. Of course, the party that really stands to lose out is the housebuilder whose product fails the test: they could see their whole scheme tip into the red. The suspicion in many people's minds is therefore that the HBF is trying to defend the indefensible: poor quality building. This suspicion will be particularly dark among those who watched the industry build using robust standard details to comply with Part L of the Building Regulations, and then saw how three out of four homes investigated failed air-pressure tests (8 April, page 54). And it will be even darker in the minds of those familiar with the MORI research that found customers have grown less happy with the build quality of their new homes with every passing year (pages 42-44). So, perhaps it's time for a revolution in attitudes at the HBF, too?

History in the making

One of the last century’s greatest engineering feats, the Channel Tunnel, has attracted a great deal attention in the past week, thanks to the boardroom putsch instigated by French investors and the news that one of the huge 580-ton boring machines used to build it is being sold on eBay for £39,999. Will this open up a new market for construction-related artefacts? How much am I bid for the paintbrushes employed at the Bath Spa? The temperature control system in at the National Physical Laboratory? Okay, how about the calculator used to work out the cost of the Scottish parliament?