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This poorly thought-out Green Deal is a bad deal for architects

Instead of inventing a qualification such as Green Deal assessor, why didn’t the government just use architects, asks Christine Murray

For as little as £900, you can study to become a Green Deal Assessor. After your three-day course, you’ll be fully qualified to charge homeowners what you wish for a two-hour consultancy on how to retrofit their properties, from biomass to air heat exchanges, photovoltaics to insulation, double glazing to low-energy lighting.

If once the profession could claim sustainability as its last bastion, where architects and engineers remained the most trusted consultants for a holistic approach to sustainable design, from pre to post-occupancy, this is the week the mantle slipped.

With the launch of the Green Deal, so-called qualified advisers will be charging homeowners for independent advice on retrofit, with expensive, wasteful and potentially dangerous consequences. Because the Green Deal favours its installation, we can expect a proliferation of uPVC windows and insulated render - especially if government proposals go ahead to make solid-wall insulation fall under permitted development.

Sadly, those members of the public who take up the Green Deal could inadvertently reduce the value of their homes. The aesthetics of uPVC windows and render aside, estate agents have already flagged the fact that Green Deal loans are attached to the property, not the homeowner - and with Green Deal loans set at a 7 per cent interest rate, this could discourage potential buyers.

‘The scheme could fail for several financial reasons,’ Siân Moxon of Jestico + Whiles told the AJ. ‘The assumption that house-buyers will pay more for a property with energy improvements - the loan being tied to the property, not the owner - may be unsound in the current housing market. The associated loans are likely to have high interest rates, and the “Golden Rule” may mean improvements do not pay back in time.’

More worrying is the concern that the Green Deal could prove to be a health hazard. As James Pickard, director of Cartwright Pickard says: ‘There are serious long-term health risks to society if our homes are super-insulated and super-sealed without careful consideration given to the importance of natural ventilation and air quality.’

But, with not a single architect signed up as an assessor, and given the speedy route to qualification, the advice given during these sessions is unlikely to be carefully considered, or independent - many of the assessors are service providers such as British Gas (which charges £99) with a vested interest in specifications resulting from the scheme.

The only saving grace is that no one understands the Green Deal, so a lack of take-up may save us from its unintended consequences. All the more reason to scrap it now, and develop a new policy that will effect real change such as a government-backed, large-scale retrofit scheme. And instead of inventing a qualification such as Green Deal assessor, why not just use qualified architects?

Andrew Goodman of Good Architecture says it best: ‘It’s a poorly considered scheme, too simplistic, developed by politicians and officials who don’t understand the issues. I think many will see that it’s very much a Bad Deal.’

 

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