I was fortunate to be asked to advise the secretariat of the group. This gave me some insights into the thinking behind it, and where the agenda may go next. Here they are.
Buildings produce more than one-third of carbon emissions. They are therefore a major contributor to global warming. But unlike industry and transport, the other big contributors, there are politically acceptable ways to reduce emissions from buildings. Furthermore, buildings provide the framework of life, our relationships and our health – the whole social fabric. We need to optimise their design and performance.
So how do we make them more sustainable? The report sets out a clear, cost-effective agenda.
First, we tackle the most accessible area of supply – new housing and major adaptations – by tightening Building Regulations. Andrew Stunell MP has given us this opportunity through his private members bill, which makes sustainability part of the regulations. We can then provide thoroughly for more efficient use of energy, waste and water (provided the bill becomes an act – parliament please note).
We also need to improve enforcement – techniques such as pressure testing may well have a role here; but, with respect to Andrew Warren and others who advocated it in the 21 May issue of Building, this is a relatively small part of the overall agenda.
Second, we can tackle incremental quality improvement in a co-ordinated way through a code for sustainable buildings. Here the trick is to use the power of the public sector as procurer to encourage other clients and the supply side to adopt the standards of the Housing Corporation, English Partnerships and the Millennium Communities. The code, developed from BREEAM and EcoHomes standards, will provide a basis for future regulation.
Third, we can create demand-pull by improving customer information for occupants of existing buildings. The Home Information Pack will enable purchasers to understand the condition of their properties. They – and indeed all of us – need to understand that investment in our homes will repay itself many times over in the life of the property. And a new labelling system for building components to prove their sustainability credentials would encourage suppliers to produce innovative materials and designers to specify them. There is also scope for financial incentives, such as differential VAT and stamp duty rates.
So how and when will all this happen? That is down to government which is now studying the report. And the report offers them the process solution. Rationalise the plethora of bodies dealing with sustainability in construction. And as part of that rationalisation, designate very quickly a single body which as a public/private sector joint venture will create and regularly review the code and above all will be a focus and engine for work on sustainable buildings. Look what CABE has done for design. Can we repeat the formula?
This report brings together sustainability and construction in a way that government as presently constituted could not do. But it is to government's great credit that the task group was set up and has now reported to the deputy prime minister, the secretary of state at the DTI and the secretary of state at DEFRA. The question now is whether they and their officials can produce a similarly joined-up response. If they do, I have no doubt that the industry will respond. And perhaps Sir John Harman and Victor Benjamin – the group's very effective co-chairs – will become for the 21st century what Sir Parker Morris was for the 20th – the definers of best housing and building standards.
Greg Trickey works for Devon Fire and Rescue