Good practices deserve rewards

... but developers aren't interested.

Two years ago the Building Research Establishment (BRE) created the Environmental Standard Award to encourage and reward developers who were building environmentally friendly housing. The scheme was launched with high hopes and expectations. By 1997 the BRE expected to be assessing 8,000 to 10,000 houses a year on such issues as energy efficiency, using wood from renewable sources, and minimising damage to the site. Yet the number of houses assessed so far runs into hundreds rather than thousands and most of these are being built by housing associations.

Dr Josephine Prior, the BRE's manager for special projects, is at a loss to explain house builders' lack of interest. "The standard was developed to reward people who already had good practices. We hoped to encourage builders to fly the flag for what they were already doing. But we have been unable to persuade the marketing people to take it on board.

"Builders say to me that buyers are interested in location and what they can see inside the houses. But I maintain that the presence of the standard must be an extra benefit."

House-builders' failure to participate in the BRE award does not mean that they are all indifferent to the environment. Taywood Homes, one of the house-builders' on the steering committee for the BRE scheme and an early award winner, no longer takes part, but maintains a commitment to green housing. Linden Homes' energy-saving measures consistently achieve an admirable Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) rating of at least 80 out of 100.

"Laing Homes regards itself as an environmentally-conscious house-builder," says its chief executive, Steve Lidgate. Recently Laing Homes South successfully transplanted a threatened 7ft-tall beech hedge from one site to another five miles away. At a development on an old joinery works in Earlsfield, south London, bricks, cobblestones, old timber and hard core were all reclaimed and recycled. "It sold very well. It pays to be green," says Rameen Firoozan, sales and marketing director.

Dr Jonathan Horner, an environmental science lecturer who bought a Laing house, was impressed by the developer's preservation of trees and other natural features, and the commitment to energy-saving. "My working life centres on the effect that environmental policy has on the world around us. Housing is an important aspect of all our lives, and I was keen to ensure that our new home would live up to the standards I feel we should all demand of the building industry."

But no Laing development has entered for the BRE Award stamp of approval. Mr Lidgate explains cautiously: "Although Laing Homes originally chose not to become fully involved, the company would be pleased to participate in any future discussions relating to the relaunch of the scheme."

The BRE standard has so far served housing association tenants best.

"We have tried to balance the environmental agenda with providing quality and affordable housing," says Martin Rowbottom, assistant director (development) of the Hastoe Housing Association, which has three BRE awards and another one pending.

As for the comparative failure of the BRE scheme in the private sector, Mr Rowbottom says, "It has not had a lot of publicity. The BRE's scheme for offices has been taken up by the industry as the benchmark, because the people who are going to use the block are closely involved in its development. House buyers aren't."

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