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Best practice homebuilders focus on sustainable communities

Michelle Ward
16th November 2010
An industry review of homebuilders, published this week, found those scoring highest on its best practice benchmark are not only building greener homes, but creating sustainable communities.
The NextGeneration benchmark named homebuilders Berkeley Group, Crest Nicholson and Miller Homes as top examples of best practice in the property industry, in its annual survey released this week.

This year’s benchmark focused on sustainable communities, emphasising the wider role of social and economic issues in delivering sustainable development. The review states that UK homebuilders are responding well to the Government’s sustainable community objectives.

WWF-UK and the Homes and Communities Agency assisted in the benchmark’s review process and Upstream Sustainability Services at Jones Lang LaSalle acted as the secretariat to the initiative.

"WWF has always believed that truly sustainable homes are about more than the environmental performance of the home itself," said Zoe Leader, Sustainable Homes Policy officer at WWF.

"While there are many great examples of housebuilders working to create sustainable communities we would encourage the house building industry to really embrace the best practice and recommendations identified in this report to ensure all future developments become sustainable in all senses of the word."

Best practice examples
The NextGeneration benchmark reviews the top 25 UK homebuilders against eight key areas of sustainable communities: environmental, services, transport, governance, social, housing, economy, and equity. In their review, NextGeneration cited examples of initiatives homebuilders are pioneering to help create sustainable homes and communities.

The Berkeley Group, which received an 85 per cent performance rating on the benchmark, has set a minimum target for all of its developments to achieve a Silver rating under the Government’s housing design quality standard, Building for Life. The business is also working with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) to achieve this target.

Crest Nicholson, which achieved a 78 per cent performance rating, records and monitors the location of its developments to ensure they have good accessibility to public transport and reports publicly on its performance in this area. The business is also partnering on a Technology Strategy Board-supported research consortium, AIMC4, which is working to develop low cost solutions to aid in the delivery of low carbon homes.

"As a business, we place significant emphasis on pioneering new approaches that will ensure low carbon homes become a mainstay of the industry, and the ability of our sector to evolve will be key in terms of ensuring future housing delivery continues to meet stringent environmental demands," said Stephen Stone, chief executive of Crest Nicholson.

Miller Homes achieved a 69 per cent performance rating and was lauded for providing buyers of their homes with access to websites on which residents can communicate with their neighbours and learn more about sustainability.

Other homebuilders were also noted for their contributions. Taylor Wimpey has integrated car clubs into a number of its developments and implemented other methods such as providing vouchers to new residents to purchase bicycles.

Barratt Homes has partnered with an energy supplier to develop a communal heating system that it has been used on several developments in London.

Gladedale Group has worked with partners such as Job Centre Plus to deliver training schemes on its projects and has started employment programmes that provide small or start-up businesses with rent-free space in their developments.

Sustainable communities
NextGeneration said that the home building industry’s focus over the last few years has been on the environmental issues associated with sustainability, such as energy efficiency and carbon reduction, but that focus is starting to transition to the development of sustainable communities.

Since the publication of the Sustainable Communities Plan in 2003 and the Egan Review – Skills for Sustainable Communities in 2005, delivering the vision for sustainable communities set out in these policies has been made a major focus for the home building industry, according to NextGeneration. These pieces of Government policy made issues such as: community safety, flexibility of tenure, flexibility of space, flexibility of use, space standards, design quality, equality and community governance as important as the environmental impact of the buildings that homebuilders construct.

"The previous Government set a challenge to the home building industry to deliver sustainable communities and the industry’s response has been positive," said Julie Hirigoyen at Upstream Sustainability Services. "The current Government will be setting an equally demanding challenge to the industry to engage local communities and help create a stronger society."

Challenges for the property industry
Another report released this week by Jones Lang LaSalle found barriers such as sustainability improvements are challenging the property industry when it comes to investment decisions.

Jones Lang LaSalle’s Energy and Sustainability Services (ESS) team published the report on behalf of the European Association of Investors in Non-listed Real Estate Vehicles (INREV), in the hope of establishing a benchmark for sustainability for European property firms and investors.

"Investors and fund managers are working hard to put in place sustainability aspects, but this report shows that some basic building blocks could be improved to ensure these initiatives are incorporated more productively across the industry," said Matthias Thomas, ceo of INREV.

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