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Developers write to David Cameron as government is accused of 'dragging heels' on green standards

The government has come under fire for watering down its ‘green’ credentials and preventing contractors and developers from investing in energy efficiency programmes.

A group of 29 business leaders (see bottom box) have written to the prime minister this week to warn him that “prevarication” on introducing minimum energy performance standards for commercial buildings could raise the costs of compliance for developers.

Signatories said the lack of clarity on MEPS was preventing a “tidal wave of investment” in inefficient property stock. 

UK-GBC chief executive Paul King said: “There are concerns that some within the coalition are dragging their heels on MEPS and delaying its implementation.

“This could deliver a blow for businesses which are already taking steps to assess their property portfolios and improve poorly performing buildings, as well as the wider property market – with occupiers still facing the higher energy bills that come with energy inefficient buildings.”

The 2011 Energy Act also provides an obligation to upgrade the worst-performing privately rented commercial buildings and homes – those with an Energy Performance Certificate rating in band “F” or “G” – from April 2018.

Contractors’ concerns

Carillion and Willmott Dixon are among the contractors to have warned they may be forced to change their policies in response to delays to low-carbon programmes.

In March, Carillion confirmed a £42.9m hit for restructuring its energy services arm after weak Green Deal take-up and changes to the Energy Companies Obligation.

In its accounts for 2013, Willmott Dixon shared with Construction News that its Energy Services division had continued to be affected by government indecision over green commitments, most recently the u-turn on ECO targets.

Willmott Dixon chief executive Rick Willmott told Construction News: “The reality in the market is there is less interest in low- carbon and more in price.

“It started as a very green-looking government and everything was being pushed towards carbon reduction and efficiency. I think the heat has gone out of that to a certain extent.”

Interserve financial director and head of sustainability Tim Haywood said it was important to balance sustainability and “good business” but that success required “some fundamental changes”.

Meanwhile, a Liberal Democrat briefing note released ahead of the Queen’s Speech said small housebuilders could now be exempt from building homes to a ‘zero-carbon’ standard under new legislation.

The plans are due to be announced in the Queen’s Speech today, as part of a new Infrastructure Bill – aimed at fast-tracking major infrastructure projects in the UK.

The Federation of Master Builders said it supported the move to remove barriers for SME housebuilders looking to build more homes, but critics said it further damaged the government’s claim to be the “greenest ever”. 

UK-GBC director of policy and communications John Alker described the decision to exclude small sites as “very disappointing”.

He said: “Small housebuilders are often portrayed as not being very innovative, but it’s a matter of them working through it.”

Mr Alker questioned why SME housebuilders would be exempt from sustainability measures, when health and safety standards were obligatory.  

“The step will stunt the zero carbon home delivery plan by opening a loophole in legislation for developers to avoid zero carbon regulations”

RIBA president Stephen Hodder

Federation of Master Builders chief executive Brian Berry said poor health and safety standards “put lives in danger, whereas sustainability requirements do not”.

Mr Berry added that “the real choice is having homes or not” and that 25 years ago two-thirds of homes were being built by SMEs, compared with one-third in 2010.

He said that while the FMB was not against “the principle of zero-carbon homes”, the industry needed to be realistic if it wanted more SMEs to enter the housing market and increase housing supply.

Barriers including the zero-carbon standard, access to finance and the supply of land for small-scale developments all put SMEs off, he added.

RIBA president Stephen Hodder said: “The step will stunt the zero carbon home delivery plan by opening a loophole in legislation for developers to avoid zero carbon regulations.

“For example, though phasing development into smaller sites, or manipulating definitions of the scale of their development.”

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokeswoman said: “Imposing minimum energy efficiency standards for privately rented properties – in both the commercial and domestic sectors – brings huge benefits, including helping tenants to take control of their energy bills and enjoy warmer, more energy efficiency properties.

“We will be consulting on how to implement these necessary requirements very shortly.”

The Department of Communities and Local Government declined to comment.

Signatories to the letter

Paul King, chief executive, UK Green Building Council

Keith Bugden, executive programme director, Better Buildings Partnership

Michael Green, chief executive, British Council of Shopping Centres      

Matthew Howell, regional managing director, UK & Ireland, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

Andrew Warren, director, Association for the Conservation of Energy  

Andrew Bolitho, energy, property and transport advisor, The British Retail Consortium

Rob Noel, chief executive, Land Securities    

Pascal Mittermaier, director of sustainability EMEA and project director, Lend Lease

David Sleath, chief executive, SEGRO             

David Atkins, chief executive officer, Hammerson

Sophie Carruth, head of sustainability, LaSalle Investment Management                

Bill Hughes, managing director, Legal and General Property

Michael Sales, managing director, TIAA Henderson Real Estate

Chris Taylor, chief executive, Hermes Real Estate

Dan Grandage, head of responsible property investment, Aberdeen Asset Management 

Tony Jacob, head of construction, environment and engineering, John Lewis Partnership

Munish Datta, head of Plan A & facilities management, Marks & Spencer             

Nick Lakin, group head of government affairs, Kingfisher

Paul Joyner, managing director, SBS (Part of the Travis Perkins Group)  

Rebecca Pearce, senior director, EMEA head of sustainability, CBRE

Rob Bould, chief executive, GVA     

Patrick Bellew, founding director, Atelier Ten

Rob Lambe, managing director, Willmott Dixon Energy Services

Donald Daw, divisional director, Mitsubishi Electric UK

John Sinfield, managing director, Knauf Insulation Northern Europe       

Pat Ward, chief executive, Aggregate Industries

Rab Bennetts, director, Bennetts Associates 

Professor Paul Ekins, director, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College London

Alex Flach, construction & maintenance drector, Whitbread

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