UCL News


Housing growth plans could be an environmental disaster

29 January 2008


port tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/09640568.asp" target="_self">Journal of Environmental Planning and Research

The Government's housing growth programme could provide a "marvellous opportunity" to tackle climate change, but instead looks set to be an "environmental disaster", according to Dr Jo Williams (UCL Bartlett School of Planning).

In an article published in the new edition of the 'Journal of Environmental Planning and Management', Dr Williams 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, support 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 developing higher environmental standards in housing. Insufficient regulatory standards and poor 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 higher performance standards becoming 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 suppliers and management and maintenance companies to support new technologies. Training programmes or handbooks for residents to improve their use of the technologies 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 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.

For more information on the article, use the link at the top of this page.