“Architects should prepare themselves for a revolution the magnitude of which hasn’t been seen since the industrial revolution." These chilling words were delivered by the Right Honourable John Gummer MP who could be in charge of the UK’s planning system within 12 months. In short, Gummer believes that we should be delivering Zero Carbon buildings, now, “The environment can’t wait ten years.” Mr Gummer stated that, “It’s just not acceptable to be producing inefficient buildings,” adding that under the proposed planning and building regulations, “if it’s not efficient, it won’t get built.” Asked how he envisaged this impacting on the design of commercial buildings, Mr Gummer was forthright, “Well we won’t see any more glass facades. They’re inefficient and they’ll be out.” When questioned about how this would impact on the supply of homes, he said that, “if zero carbon is mandatory, then the market will find a way to deliver the volume at a competitive price.” He went on to accept that the only way to achieve the required specification may be by off site manufacture.
A more complex answer was given when pushed about who would pay for the extra specification. Here the Conservatives are investigating a radical restructure of building finance, where energy supply is as much an integral part of a building’s cost as interest on a mortgage. Every building owner, residential or commercial will have a statutory obligation to improve its efficiency. When a building is sold, if the owner hasn’t improved the efficiency in line with a pre-determined scale, then a fine is imposed. The value of the fine will then be made available to the incoming owner who must use these funds to improve the efficiency of the building. Gummer said that they (the Conservatives) were negotiating with utilities to create a finance package that will allow building owners to forward purchase energy at a reduced rate, possibly even linked to the building’s mortgage. The savings made on energy supply would be used to pay the additional mortgage cost needed to finance the improvements to the building.
As the interview closed, he added as an aside that they would also close the current loophole in which suburban houses and gardens are classified as Brownfield sites allowing their demolition and replacement with apartment blocks. Known to its opponents as “Garden Grabbing” the practice had been augmenting larger scale developments providing a steady flow of new homes.
What all this means is open to speculation, but we shouldn’t forget that John Gummer was Minister for the Environment (including planning) under Margret Thatcher and is a well respected Big Hitter so he is well placed to be in a new cabinet. Also, the UK polls are unanimously pointing at the Conservatives as the next Government. Against them however, is news revealed this week that of the influx of new MPs that would make up Mr Cameron’s Government only 15% think that the environment is more important than terrorism and are against green taxes. So the future is ... uncertain.
WAN asked Arup Global Leader of Materials and Facade Engineering, Andrew Hall, for his reaction to Gummer's claim that we won't see any more glass facades under a Conservative leadership. Hear what he had to say