Monday, July 14, 2014

The BRE alternative to the Code for Sustainable Homes

The Building Research Establishment has seen the Government steer its campaign against red tape in the direction of the Code for Sustainable Homes and is resigned to the sustainability of housing to be the responsibility of the Building Regulations. The BRE has also seen the signs in the 2014 Queen's Speech that the Zero Carbon Homes by 2016 commitment is to be qualified (no more than the equivalent of CSH5 will be required) and that small sites (yet to bhe defined) will be exempt. These changes has caused confusion about whether planners would be able (ie in law) or willing, to remain engaged in the control over the sustainabilty of buildings (including housing), particularly as the NPPF/Framework contains the 'presumption in favour of sustainable development'; the golden thread that still runs through plan-making and decision-taking. It seems to me that development plans should logically repeat the Bruntland definition of sustainable development from the Framework, and adopt the analogy of an appeal inspector of the need 'to consume its own smoke'. The 'presumption' implies that planners should also stay involved in decision-making - considering whether any development benefits from the 'presumption' and, if not, (eg significantly lower than zero carbon for even a small number of houses), refuse permission. A BRE 'kite mark' for sustainable development could be very useful, and the following is my response to its consultation. Found at (respond by 25 July 2014)
My thoughts on the use of a 'kite mark' follow the above reasoning, that the 'presumption' and 'golden thread' in the Framework oblige planners to remain engaged in assessing sustainability - not just energy efficiency. At the very least developers should be obliged to build show houses to the highest standard and offer this to potential purchasers. The BRE have set out a number of criteria and, in response to three of them,
* mental and physical health & wellbeing of occupants
* resource efficiency
* low energy, water and maintenance costs, I have suggested the following.
Taking the above criteria into account jointly or severally, the highest accreditation should be applied (reserved) for co-housing that implies and, through the design, should be able to demonstrate a level of sharing of land and buildings that represents a highly efficient use of resources in construction and subsequent use. The 'intentional community' would share the caring for children, the disabled, the sick and elderly, and enhance mental and physical health. Co-housing would also facilitate the sharing of spaces for work and play that increase the wellbeing of the residents. Preserving this highest accreditation for co-housing would be a signal to developers and planning authorities (including parish councils/neighbourhood forums) that the models of housing provided in at least the last 60 years have not been amenable to sharing and have instead encouraged the unsustainable resource costs associated with private and exclusive use. In the case of the design of individual dwellings (outside of co-housing developments with commonhouse and other shared spaces where individuals and families can meet their needs for indoor and outdoor space), there should be 'points' awarded or deducted for the ease with which a dwelling could be reconfigured to smaller (or indeed larger) units. Circulation (eg external doors and stairs), services (plumbing and electrics), gardens and parking should be designed so that subdivision could be carried out at reasonable expense. This would enable smaller households to downsize without moving and would address unsustainable levels of under-occupation, particularly prevalent in rural and suburban areas.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Homes for Britain - HfB

Homes for Britain is an initiative being taken by a significant number of organisations involved in the delivery of housing, including the RIBA, RTPI and the RICS the HQ of which hosted an event on 1 July. Go the web site to find the purpose, initially aimed at the political parties and candidates contesting the 2015 election. During a breakout, my partner and I thought of three things that had not yet emerged, 1, Ask the Germans (who do not seem to have the same level of difficulty with co-housing, build quality or a fair rental system, 2. Address the under-occupancy (and empty/second homes to bring new build targets down to achievable levels - attractive options for about 4m downsizers would be a good place to start. 3. Link to the think tanks that have the ear of the political parties to see whether ideological differences can be put to one side. However, HfB might not be the way to make progress on meeting housing needs. Dan's Plan starts with bringing the same organisations together in a quiet space and constructing a systems diagram which includes the social, economic and environmental elements of the housing system. The overall objective would be to provide access to a safe, energy efficient space for a growing population. To do so the team would have to identify the virtuous circles that can deliver sufficient affordable homes within the constraints of the Climate Change Act (actually new housing must be carbon negative as no other sector will get close to zero). The complexity of the housing system can be turned to advantage as every link has a potential for good but, and this is the trick bit, every policy and implemented change has to be part of a coherent pattern. Once a potentially virtuous circle has been identified attention can be focused on the obstacles and frictions. A strategy is then required to focus on the measures to remove obstacles through financial inducements (positive in the way of grants and tax breaks and possibly negative ones in the form of taxes) and education or re-education (like the courses provided to errant drivers). If I can anticipate that under-occupation will be found to be one of the main problems needing to be addressed on economic, environmental and social grounds, HfB could helpfully investigate how to increase the rate of downsizing. A helpful suggestion was that this should involve a family centered approach looking at typical family situations and what interventions could be seen to benefit all generations.