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Government housing programme set to be ‘environmental disaster’, says UCL academic

Publication date: Jan 29, 2008 12:57:00 PM

The Government’s housing growth programme could provide a ‘marvellous opportunity’ to tackle climate change, but is currently set to be an ‘environmental disaster’, according to an article published in the new edition of the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management by Dr Jo Williams, UCL Bartlett School of Planning.

The paper argues that environmental performance standards set by the Government for new housing are not stringent enough, and that there has not been adequate investment in the technologies, supporting services and infrastructure needed to deliver ‘green’ housing for the growth regions.

It suggests that the current plan to initially set low environmental performance targets for housing and improve them over time seems ‘fraught’ as it is unlikely to drive the required increase in technological, infrastructural, service and knowledge capacity needed to deliver ‘green’, and, more importantly, zero-carbon homes.

The paper concludes that the Government should make the current 6-star standard for sustainable homes (the highest ‘sustainability’ rating possible under the Government’s voluntary Code for Sustainable Homes) mandatory for all new housing, and invest in the technology, infrastructure and knowledge needed to support its delivery.

Household growth, a growing economy and a lack of affordable accommodation in the South East have resulted in the Government introducing the most ambitious housing growth policies since the 1960s. It is estimated that the construction of the new housing envisaged could generate 5.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, 1.8 million tonnes of waste and could use 9.8 million tonnes of construction materials. New households living in the growth regions could generate 9.9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, 3 million tonnes of waste and consume 29 billion litres of water annually.

“Contrary to popular belief cost is not the key barrier to the developing housing to higher environmental standards. Insufficient regulatory standards, technological, infrastructural and knowledge capacity are the key barriers to overcome,” said Dr Williams.

“The housing programme provides Government with an excellent opportunity to move towards its carbon reduction targets, but to do so will require that higher performance standards become mandatory for all new housing. The Government needs to address this urgently and provide the investment to ensure that environmentally sustainable housing does not come at the price of exacerbating the housing shortage.”

Interviews with residents and developers also revealed a variety of post-occupancy problems that restricted the effectiveness of green technologies in new homes, such as malfunctioning energy systems, and residents removing the technologies and installing low performance alternatives to suit the colour scheme.

“Residents complained about lack of diversity and poor access to new technologies, whilst developers complained of lack of resource suppliers, management and maintenance companies to support new technologies. Training programmes or handbooks for residents to improve their use of the technologies provided seem likely to have limited success, particularly in developments where residents are ‘time-poor’ or with a high proportion of rental units. How can people be expected to maintain new technologies if replacements aren’t available through B&Q?”

The paper concludes that a combination of passive technologies maintained and managed by external service providers was the most likely to be effective in delivering environmental targets in new housing. A resident led approach was also feasible but only if appropriate training was provided in combination with adequate access to a diversity of technologies.

This could be encouraged through the introduction of appropriate product legislation – to ensure all new heating, bathroom, kitchen fixtures, etc are designed to a standard to achieve a 6-star rating in the UK. However the use and maintenance of these technologies, particularly amongst the time-poor, might have to be reinforced through voluntary agreements.

“The housing growth programme planned for England and Wales could provide a marvellous opportunity to tackle climate change if approached differently, but currently appears set to be an environmental disaster,” said Dr Williams.

Notes for Editors

1. “Green Houses for the Growth Region”, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, Vol 51, No1, 1-34 Jan 2008. http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a788291351~db=all~order=page

2. For further information please contact Dominique Fourniol in the UCL Media Relations office on 0207 679 9728.

About UCL

Founded in 1826, UCL was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to admit students regardless of race, class, religion or gender, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. In the government’s most recent Research Assessment Exercise, 59 UCL departments achieved top ratings of 5* and 5, indicating research quality of international excellence.

UCL is the fourth-ranked UK university in the 2005 league table of the top 500 world universities produced by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. UCL alumni include Mahatma Gandhi (Laws 1889, Indian political and spiritual leader); Jonathan Dimbleby (Philosophy 1969, writer and television presenter); Junichiro Koizumi(Economics 1969, Prime Minister of Japan); Lord Woolf (Laws 1954 – Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales), Alexander Graham Bell (Phonetics 1860s – inventor of the telephone), and members of the band Coldplay.