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Sustainability at the centre

Opinion This year saw sustainability at the centre of architectural debate. David Strong looks back at 2007

The year 2007 is year zero – the year the UK committed to delivering zero-carbon new homes by 2016. It’s also the year when politicians from all parties really started taking the issue of climate change seriously. However, more important than the political rhetoric are the foundations which have been laid in transforming markets on both the demand and supply side associated with sustainability in the construction sector.

Furthermore, 2007 was the year that letting agents, developers and construction clients realised that the sustainability agenda was here to stay and that the environmental credentials of a building would have an increasingly important impact on asset value. The response the supply side, from designers, consultants, materials producers, contractors and facilities management companies finally realised that there were profits to be made from delivering this agenda.

The timely launch in 2007 of the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) has been vital in galvanising and uniting the many disparate organisations involved in delivering a more sustainable built environment. Despite only being launched in February, the UKGBC has already emerged as a vitally important partner for government in acting as a bridge between the key government departments and agencies and the construction industry.

Other significant events during 2007 included the introduction of a mandatory minimum requirement to achieve a Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) Level 3 rating for all new public housing. Also, the first phase of implementing Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) for buildings (as part of the Home Information Pack scheme) were introduced in June, and from 14 December EPCs will be required for all private homes being sold in England and Wales. Requirements for EPCs will be rolled out during 2008 for all other building types.

The 2007 Budget confirmed that Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) would be waived for new zero-carbon homes and while this is a welcome policy in principle, there is concern that the definitions in the subsequent Statutory Instrument are unrealistic. Unless the definition is changed (to allow off-site renewables to be used to offset appliance energy requirements), the SDLT rebate may have little impact in helping to stimulate the market for low-/zero-carbon homes.

Despite 2007 being a year of major achievements, there is still concern that there is no clear strategy to promote and drive the take-up of cost-effective energy efficiency measures in the existing building stock. Most of the focus has been on new build; however, we have already built at least 70 per cent of the 2050 building stock. Without a clear strategy for reducing the energy demand of existing buildings the UK stands little chance of achieving its carbon reduction targets – this really is a top priority for 2008.

David Strong is chief executive of Inbuilt Consulting, a founder of the UKGBC

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