The road to a sustainable future is long and hard, with tricky obstacles and high costs along the way. Here Tom Bloxham suggests how the government could lead by example
I’ve seen the future and it’s “green”. I am sure that is what Tom Stoppard said in his play Jumpers, which I read quite a few years ago at school. It seems that with the exception of a few barking mad individuals, everyone is worried about global warming, everyone is talking about it and every month new legislation seems to come in forcing us to be greener. But there also seems to be a great reluctance for anyone to pay for it, be it the government or the consumer.
At Urban Splash, I hope we are the exception rather than the rule. We want to be more environmentally responsible, we want our homes and offices to meet and beat these ever-tighter industry standards, but we won’t compromise on the quality of design of architecture, either.
We’ve been using Combined Heat and Power (CHP), ultra-high insulation, green roofs,
bio-remediation and modern methods of construction for several years now and we’re continually exploring new developments such as ground-source heat pumps, boreholes for water and localised utility companies.
None of this is particularly sexy; they are not the main selling points of our developments and we know we don’t have all the answers, but at least we’re making a start.
The pursuit of environmental responsibility does cost money – often serious money – and the payback can take years, even dozens of years. We believe increasingly that residential and business consumers will need to choose green, both for personal lifestyle preferences, guilt or to fulfil their corporate social responsibility doctrine. And we hope they will choose our green apartments or offices instead of our competitors’ un-green ones. But they are reluctant to pay for it. What’s more, when the mortgage valuer inspects
the apartment, despite its award-winning design, all the green technology and the
low carbon dioxide emissions, unfortunately all too often he looks at the same size flat
in the next street and says that’s the
If we sound frustrated, we sometimes are. But we are also optimists, constantly trying to push green technologies
So, if we sound frustrated, we sometimes are. But we are also optimists. We are constantly trying to push green technologies in developments such as New Islington, Manchester’s Millennium Community and Lake Shore (the former Imperial Tobacco headquarters), Bristol. We are trying to show what can be achieved but I think more can be done by the government. Not just by increasing the standards of Building Regulations – which has the inevitable side effect of increasing house price inflation – but by taking up many other ideas that
could really help. For example, there is the RIBA’s suggestion that stamp duty be waived for the first sales of sustainable houses,
and the suggestion that VAT be equalised between refurbishment and new build, as I believe more energy goes into the manufacture of new homes that they use in their lifetime.
Real sustainability is about re-use. I think we should make sure the government leads by example: all new public buildings should be exemplars of sustainability and not just built the cheapest way possible; when government departments relocate they should move to a green building. And finally the planning system needs to become more sympathetic to sustainable buildings.
Most of all, all of us can be really sustainable by making sure that new buildings today are quality ones with great architecture that could last 100 years and will make our great, great grandchildren very glad we built them.
Tom Bloxham, group chairman and co-founder of Urban Splash, will speak at Think, a new
sustainability and regeneration event, at the Excel centre in London Docklands from 1-3 May. Think is a joint venture between CMPi’s Built Environment publications and Building and Property Group (Live Media).