What’s needed to make homes energy efficient is a VAT cut, says Christine Murray
The Green Deal has failed. Instead of encouraging 25 million homeowners to insulate and double-glaze, just 626 have signed up in the programme’s first year.
Why is the take-up so bad? Well, for starters: the loans are punitively expensive; the providers are self-interested; it’s too complex (with only certain building details permitted); the debt is tied to the property; and, frankly, the Green Deal is a not a good deal for the majority of households.
But instead of admitting to having got it wrong, David Cameron, in a speech this week about supporting small businesses, has been boasting about scrapping hundreds of building regulations and green regulations in particular (‘green crap’ as he has previously put it), which he claims are holding back house building and the economy. A load of rubbish, as Paul Finch points out in his column.
In the meantime, architects are lobbying for a move that would make a significant difference to the nation’s investment in existing homes - a VAT cut from 20 per cent to 5 per cent on extensions, refurbishments, historic upgrades and retrofits - the minimum allowed under European legislation.
As Marion Baeli, associate at Paul Davis and Partners, says, ‘VAT is a major issue in small house retrofit projects. On top of fees, VAT often make it not economical at all.’
In other words, a VAT cut would support small businesses - especially architects and the building trades - while encouraging an increase in the energy efficiency of existing buildings, and spurring on small-scale house developers and home owners to undertake flat conversions, extensions and so on.
What the AJ considers good architecture has changed over the decades. In current thinking, it must be sustainable - but we take a broad definition of sustainability that extends beyond energy efficiency to include buildings that are adaptable, built-to-last, socially and economically responsible and, finally, well-designed places and spaces for people.
Since our Footprint Live: Green Rethink conference in November, and in the light of our work on the Bridge the Gap campaign on building performance, we have determined that it is not possible to truly judge the success of a building in terms of its sustainability if it is under two years old. As a result, AJ sustainability editor Hattie Hartman - who edits our monthly Footprint section - has taken on the new challenge of arranging revisits to celebrated buildings to reassess them in use over time.
This week’s revisit to AHMM’s Kentish Town Health Centre follows on from the revisit to Alsop’s Peckham Library in September, and is the second in what we hope will be a useful re-evaluation of contemporary buildings. Amanda Birch’s article includes interviews with occupants and with the original architects and features the words of an anonymous engineer we brought along to inspect the building.
While many factors affect the success of a building, one thing is certain: the more we understand about a project’s life after handover, the greener we can build.