UKGBC recently released a green paper proposing a key leadership role for cities and local authorities in the support of the delivery of new homes. We have responded fully to UKGBCs questions, the following is a summary of our key points.
Local Authorities have traditionally been in a unique position as the custodians of the long term future of new development. Because of their democratic mandate they are ideally placed to play a leadership role in driving standards in housing especially when they are developing their own land.
However, other stakeholders including funders, landowners, designers, contractors and their supply chain, should not be excluded from taking a leadership role. Partnerships are key to forming the basis for the delivery of the long term, positive outcomes for the existing and incoming community.
After all, different situations need different leaders and, whilst the planning system can be an effective lever for high quality development, the maximum opportunity may not always be delivered when used in isolation.
Promoting the tried and tested tools that planners are familiar with, including the development of local plans, should be a priority. This is in addition to providing much needed general capacity building through skills, training and resource enhancements.
Certification schemes such as BREEAM: Communities, WELL Building Standard™, Passivhaus and the Home Quality Mark are tried and tested. They are well established and well known for offering an independent verification of a development’s sustainability credentials. They can streamline the assessment of ‘sustainable development’, provide a consistent measure of performance and are useful baselines for discussion; being recognised and understood nationwide (as well as internationally).
They are most effective when applied in a flexible and holistic way. A good example can be seen in the recently adopted Ipswich Core Strategy, which encourages (rather than requires) developers to use certification schemes such as Home Quality Mark, to help design and deliver high quality homes.
However, requiring standards above the minimum should be done with caution and is only part of the solution in actually delivering high performing, sustainable developments.
History has taught us that focusing on individual technical areas, rather than outcomes, is likely to cause unintended consequences. For example pushing for greater energy efficiency standards and not considering indoor air quality / overheating and ventilation is likely to cause issues for future occupants of the homes.
Equally, if every landowner starts to require different standards, measured in different ways, it is likely to become confusing. Not only confusing for developers (both national and also local companies who will not be able to look for case studies / best practice) but also householders who want to compare different homes in different regions.
It also could become confusing for manufacturers who want to show how their products achieve certain standards and for financiers who do not always have the technical knowledge to understand the details and differences of locally set standards.
Furthermore, in the vast majority of cases, applications of note are subject to negotiation. Whatever standards are set, a collaborative and flexible mindset should be kept by all parties to maximise the opportunities within the development for the greater good of the community.
Through using national standards, such as BREEAM Communities, the framework and principles can be set. Then by using Home Quality Mark, aims and objectives can then be delivered in a manner that is flexible, holistic and of value to the householder and community.
Taking this approach means that areas where short term viability is more challenging, developers can learn solutions and techniques from others achieving the same standards in areas where viability is less of an issue. Measuring issues with the same criteria across the UK helps create consistency and greater understanding.
So how can Local Planning Authorities support the delivery of sustainable housing? By taking the lead where appropriate but always with a view to working in partnership and collaboration with other stakeholders. By knowing when to sit back and help smooth the way, and when to intervene to ensure the delivery of high quality homes. By updating their local plans and utilising existing, well recognised and understood sustainability standards. By considering the needs of their communities holistically and focusing on securing the delivery of outcomes; outcomes that ensure that high quality housing is available to all.