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Thursday, May 18, 2006
Yvette Cooper, Miliband and greener housebuilding
Interesting speech (full text) last night by Cooper about the government's commitment to greener and more energy-saving development. She praised the local authorities that are already doing good suff (like Merton with its famous 10% rule for renewable energy in new developments), saying that if all local authorities took the measures that the best are doing, Britain's energy use would fall by a fifth.

She also announced as expected that the next stage of the Design for Manufacture competition (otherwise known as the £60,000 house) will be for zero-carbon and low-cost homes. Interestingly, I have been involved with a project at London Metropolitan University which this year has been getting students to design exactly that - a £60k, carbon-neutral house design. And she also said that they are undertaking feasibility work to see how to "make the Thames Gateway a low carbon development area and to move towards carbon neutrality."

I think its fascinating how green issues are really high on the agenda now. Yesterday's Guardian ran an interesting piece on BedZed four years on and many of the problems that it has encountered - but the fact is that a huge number of changes have happened in those four years and the next generation of zero-carbon developments currently being planned by companies like Bioregional Quintain will benefit from better and simpler technology at a more cost-effective and future-proof level. Meanwhile supermarkets are competing to green-wash themselves and there is a national shortage of organic milk.

Is this a belated realisation that high oil prices are not going away? I'm really interested to see how the mainstream of commercial developers start to adopt some of the really easy and cheap green elements into standard spec office blocks, residential developments and shopping centres. Can we sell them an understanding of the commercial, brand and financial benefits that they can get from this?

At Adnams, my father recently commissioned what is basically a massive industrial shed to house a new distribution and storage depot - and when costed out, it was only marginally more expensive to do the whole thing with a green roof, glulam timber beams and all the sustainable works than to build a conventional shed because the price of steel has gone so high. They said that they calculated the cost savings of lower energy use to pay back the extra build cost if energy prices rose by 1% or something tiny - and last year, their energy unit price rose by around 30%.

So the message really is that its much, much more commercially sound now to do things greener - the tipping point has been reached. The need is to gather the evidence base that can prove this to the development sector and get them to understand its real.

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