ECOBUILD Blog: Sustainability sinking into alphabet soup

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My first visit to Ecobuild today left me intrigued by a world which is sinking into an alphabet soup – a regulatory morass.

The exhibition and conference itself – now owned by Property Week’s parent UBM – is buzzing, with conservative estimates of 60,000 people attending at east London’s ExCel over three days.

But while sustainability has plainly taken a grip of the development industry, the regulatory framework is lagging badly behind.

One of the most exasperated protagonists was Land Securities chief executive Francis Salway, a steely but generally mild-mannered man.

“I think operators in the property industry are now doing more than is financially rational”, Salway told 200 delegates in the ‘Creating an energy efficient property sector’ seminar. “A number of us are making decisions based on reputation. There is only so far that can go.”

Salway, and to an extent his co-panellist and Hammerson head of sustainability Paul Edwards, are frustrated  by EPCs, DECs and CRCs.

That’s Energy Performance Certificates, Display Energy Certificates and the Carbon Reduction Commitment to you and me.

The EPC is all over the place – another panellist, sustainability research guru Dr Angus Macintosh said a CLG insider had told him you could get four different ratings D to G for your property, depending on who undertook the assessment.

The DEC is better, but very few people use it. An estate agent in the audience said punters never ask about DECs or EPCs.

And the CRC, hailed as revolutionising the landlord-tenant relationship when it was introduced, is a complete mess and was dismissed by Salway as ‘just a tax’ which needs to be simplified fast.

Next it was on to `The road to zero-carbon: the future of house building’, with Barratt chief executive Mark Clare and Communities and Local Government Parliamentary Under Secretary of State [and LibDem] Andrew Stunell.

The minister admitted that there is likely to be a ‘gap in performance’ when zero carbon homes have to be introduced in 2016, and then gave the regulatory regime a kicking himself.

“If you get your car serviced you get an MOT. If you build a home, nobody looks”.

What we have is a world which has grown up quickly – sustainability in the built environment – combined with one of the few areas associated with property where votes can be won.

The result? Regulation trying breathlessly to keep up with the rate of change, and politicians from the three main parties all trying to gain credit from green rule changes they can call their own.

Somebody save us from being engulfed by these rules. Help!

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