Professor Chris Gorse, Director of the Leeds Sustainability Institute at Leeds Beckett, provided evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment’s Inquiry into the Quality of New Build Housing.
The inquiry is examining the potential for improving every aspect of the product handed over to new home-owners. This is a subject of special significance in the wake of the Government’s recently-published National Productivity Plan, which includes the ambition to build more than one million homes in England by 2020.
Others giving evidence as part of the inquiry included the Institute of Clerks of Works and Construction Inspectorate (ICWCI), the Local Authority Building Control (LABC), MD Insurance Services Ltd, Zero Carbon Hub, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Building Research Establishment, The National House Building Council (NHBC), the House Building Federation (HBF), the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI).
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in the Built Environment was formed in July 2010. The group’s primary remit is to present a holistic and overarching view from all sectors involved in the planning, design, construction, management and maintenance of the built environment. The built environment encompasses all forms of building (housing, industrial, commercial, hospitals, schools, etc.), and civil engineering infrastructure, both above and below ground, and includes the managed landscapes between and around buildings.
Professor Gorse provided both verbal and written evidence to the inquiry, focusing on the Leeds Sustainability Institute’s expertise in building performance, with contributions from Malcolm Bell, David Johnston, Fiona Fylan, Dominic Miles-Shenton, David Glew, James Parker, David Farmer, Martin Fletcher, Anne Stafford, Felix Thomas and Melanie Smith.
The team’s evidence looked at the central themes to assure the quality of new housing, including standards to sustain long-term economic value and address performance gaps, build quality, fire safety and acoustic control. The evidence also covered assembly evidence and monitoring of energy efficiency, economically viable homes and the long-term consequence of poor performance as well as looking at immediate industry consequences of poorly performing homes.
Professor Gorse explained: “To increase productivity without compromising quality, the findings of recent research on the performance of building fabrics will prove important in future decision-making. The recognition of a performance gap between the designed intent of a building and that actually achieved in practice is of notable concern. Evidence suggests that some current build processes are flawed and susceptible to variation in quality and performance. Attention needs to be directed at design, construction and commission practice to ensure all new building forms are robust.
“Some of the gaps are small, within an acceptable level of tolerance, and can be put down to expected variation in field based performance and the sensitivity of assessment. However, some test results are well outside any normal tolerance or acceptable practice and are indications of inadequate, specification, design or construction. Agreement on acceptable tolerance and meaningful certification is essential.”
He continued: “Attempting to close the gap between designed and actual energy consumption in buildings requires a whole systems approach to construction. In our research we have shown that dwellings and elements within dwellings can be designed and constructed to perform consistently within an acceptable range of tolerance. The performance of buildings is not conventionally recorded and has not previously been a fundamental part of the house building process and so it is reasonable to predict that a great deal of variation exists in the UK housing stock. The implication of this is that a large amount of energy may be being unnecessarily and unaccountably consumed by the UK housing.
“Both the industry and its clients should now have the ability to determine which buildings perform as expected and those that don’t. Quality systems are essential to ensure the industry assures the performance of its products for a scaled up delivery.”