Changing Climate of Opinion is Welcomed

Building professionals are often criticised for putting profit before environmental impact, but the Design Commission for Wales senses a welcome change in the air following recent announcements from the Construction Industry Council, the UKGBC and from some home grown expertise.

At a recent conference of construction professionals, climate change was named as their top concern. ‘Trying harder’ was no longer seen as an option and a root and branch appraisal of design was needed to help mitigate the impact of the construction industry on climate change. The pressure is certainly on for the industry as the Welsh Assembly Government has already announced its aspiration to achieve zero carbon rated buildings from 2011, ahead of the 2016 target in England.

Carole Anne-Davies, Chief Executive, Design Commission for Wales, said, “The Design Commission for Wales has long been a champion of sustainable design and has always said innovation in this area would come from the professional design industries. Before you can build sustainably you have to design sustainability. Somehow in recent years we’ve arrived at a position of building high energy consuming, resource inefficient buildings, inadequately linked to public transport. Coupled with construction waste – it’s not a good position to be in.

“Key messages, which we’ve consistently highlighted for over half a decade, regarding good, resource efficient, sustainable design, are at last striking a few chords. It’s a huge opportunity for the construction business and suppliers and it’s encouraging to hear a more positive approach ahead of impending regulation. The skills of designers are crucial as well as the gearing up of the industry. We should be looking to our innovative designers and learning from them.

“The Commission is delighted that Welsh practice Gaunt Francis has been the first to build a house for a volume builder which meets Code Level 6 on the Code for Sustainable Homes. This is the highest level for zero carbon building on the Code and is the target for 2016.

“We have a practice here at home innovating in this way, with lessons to share for the domestic volume building market. It’s not a minute too soon. Test projects like this one will help provide the answers to the considerable challenges ahead and the Barratt Green House by Gaunt Francis is something the industry should be learning from. It’s a huge opportunity to celebrate good practice and share the knowledge and experience gained from the project. It’s also a signal of popular support as over 22,000 people voted for the design when it was publicised in the Daily Mail competition.

“The Design Commission works with design and development teams on all kinds of schemes in Wales and we can see indications that the tide is turning. In many areas there is a lot of work still to do. Nevertheless, the more we know about projects such as this and the more attention the industry gives to seizing these opportunities, the more progress we will make. We don’t have the time to wait and see – climate change is the challenge of all our age.”

“We understand how difficult things are at a time when the credit crunch is biting on the construction and house building industries but we also know that the effects of climate change aren’t going to go away while the market adjusts. As Paul King of the UK Green building Council said this week, we are also seeing unprecedented commitments to sustainability set out by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron and in Wales we have long been working to achieve low and zero carbon buildings and to meet high aspirations and commitments from the Welsh Assembly Government to annual carbon reductions of at least 3% as set out in One Wales. As a member of the UKGBC, the Commission shares the view that while economic conditions don't make our task any easier in the short-term, the imperative for a sustainable built environment will not only remain, it will grow. There is an opportunity for industry to reflect and prepare for better times when sustainability will be the pre-requisite of doing business and undoubtedly a competitive advantage that will reward those businesses who have invested and prepared. We have too quickly forgotten the warning of the Stern report in terms of impact on GDP and have too often remained in “business as usual“ mode. This is a huge chance to learn, test and deliver market solutions for better, more resource efficient, places to live.”

Andrew Sutton, architect for the Green House, said, “Delivering the first Code 6 house with Barratt has given Gaunt Francis a significant understanding of what’s needed to mainstream high volume sustainability. It will also demonstrate that the design community has the necessary skills to deliver zero carbon. We're keen to build on this practical demonstration and show that the Assembly's aspiration for 2011 can be realised through good design. We also wish to assist in pushing forward the opportunities to put Wales at the head of a growing sustainable supply chain and construction skills upgrade.”