Conference delegates unanimously agreed that the sustainable, cost-effective refurbishment of buildings is often preferable to new build.

This was the view reached after a debate on whether there is "such a thing as a sustainable, cost-effective refurbishment".

Interior head of marketing Robert Harris started the discussion by suggesting that "a refurbished building will always be of secondhand quality".

Independent consultant Stacey Litwin-Davies, formerly of DEGW, said: "It is fitness for purpose that decides if refurbishment is the best solution. There is no right or wrong." She gave the example of drugs giant Zenica's headquarters in London's Mayfair, which, being a masonry construction, was soundproof for high-level meetings and need not be redeveloped.

Concerns were raised that today's massive IT requirements would make buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s unsuitable for refurbishment in today's market, given the space required for cabling.

But the conversion of a 1960s high-rise into a call centre was cited as proof that it was possible to shoehorn IT into a 1960s building.

A second issue was risk. It was agreed that refurbishment carried more risk for the construction team.

QS Turner & Townsend partner Vince Clancy said that "a lump-sum contract was the wrong way to procure a refurbishment project because it required a certainty that does not exist", and added that "too many general contractors were undertaking refurbishment without specialist skills required".

"Is the risk profile simply too great?" asked Harris. "We pass on risk rather than managing it out by doing the process differently in the first place," said Clancy.

Partnering was felt to be the ideal solution, so that a particular problem could be tackled on site at workshops attended by contractors, designers and subcontractors.

Another concern was whether a refurbished building was less flexible than a new structure. Litwin-Davies disagreed, saying that floor plate dimensions and configurations were the deciding factor, a view endorsed by some of the developers present.