Letter: Green buildings

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The Independent Online
ir: Whilst I subscribe to the diagnosis of our environmental problems outlined by Charles Secrett (letter, 11 October) I feel he is being hard on a government which has hardly had a chance to penetrate the inner workings of the mind of "Sir Humphrey." We should not underestimate the scale of the commitment by Tony Blair to cut emissions of carbon dioxide by 20 per cent against 1990 levels by 2010.

The built environment imposes by far the greatest demand on fossil-based energy. This is the sector which could deliver the carbon-dioxide reductions within the timescale and without political risk.

We have some of the worst housing in Europe, and there needs to be a national strategy to bring the whole housing stock to a standard of thermal efficiency near to the current regulations for new buildings. The most urgent requirement is for a review of the thermal section (Part L) of the Building Regulations. This needs to be substantially tightened, so that in the domestic sector we are at least in line with comparable north European countries.

In commercial and institutional buildings, we need to tackle head-on the market resistance to naturally lit and ventilated offices. There is now conclusive evidence that green buildings offer a commercial advantage over their sealed, air-conditioned counterparts, not least in the health of the occupants. Where there have been corporate moves from an air conditioned office to green accommodation there has been around a 15 per cent reduction in absenteeism.

Earlier draft buildings regulations made it necessary to justify the inclusion of air conditioning. This was omitted due to pressure from the offices lobby. It should be reinstated, especially since the Government has demonstrated in an innovative building that it is possibly in areas of high pollution to have a seated building which is nevertheless naturally ventilated. The New Parliamentary Building in Whitehall will set new standards for the offices sector.

Professor PETER F SMITH

Chairman, Environment and Planning Committee

Royal Institute of British Architects

London W1

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