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Housing debate dominates Footprint Live

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Last week’s flagship eco-conference heard contrasting views over where to build new housing, as well as calls for post-occupancy monitoring

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett called for a radical shake-up of the way the country delivers housing at last week’s Footprint Live conference.

She said: ‘We need to think about housing differently. We need more homes – that is a reality. But what we need are affordable homes close to public transport, jobs and schools.  That doesn’t mean the kind of building which happens on the green belt.’

This year’s conference, held again at the Royal College of Physicians in London, was headlined by James Timberlake and featured a range of leading eco-pioneers.

The event focused heavily on housing and the need to build affordable and sustainable homes, with Bennett urging the UK to look towards co-housing models and concentrate on building on brownfield land.

In an interview with the AJ’s acting editor Rory Olcayto, she said: ‘Architects have an important place in terms of build quality.  They must insist that what is designed works, and keep a very close eye on what actually gets built.’

After dismissing the need for new garden cities, Bennett was followed on stage by winner of the 2014 Wolfson Economics Prize URBED’s David Rudlin who proceeded to set out his garden-city-led solution to the housing crisis.

Rudlin said: ‘If you are going to extend an existing place then the only sustainable place to do it is on the green belt.  The only alternative is to build on the existing small towns three miles away. But then people drive in because you can’t serve that distant development with public transport.’

He added: ‘Garden cities are the only way to expand towns once you have used up brownfield land.’

Earlier sessions at the conference discussed the importance of post-occupancy monitoring in understanding building’s energy use, and the lack of current data.

According to Oliver Novakovic, technical and innovation director at Barratt Developments, houses can ‘perform 150 per cent worse than predicted’.

He added: ‘We don’t have the tools available yet to really model homes and non-domestic buildings properly to see how they perform.’

And Zaha Hadid Architects director Jim Heverin admitted his practice wasn’t actively monitoring its projects.

But Greg Penoyre of Penoyre & Prasad, said the key to improving the sustainability of buildings in use was to engage with the people who run buildings.

‘They don’t really feature in the design team and client meeting structure,’ he observed. ‘They tend to come into the process very late and don’t tend to be very happy about what they have to operate. We need to make friends with these people and see it from their point of view.’

He added: ‘Buildings are like an iPhone: people operate them to a level in which they are confident. So we need to build confidence in people to make results more effective.’


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