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Property chiefs debate sustainability

Sustainability will still be important despite the impact of the credit crunch, according to industry representatives speaking during a debate organised by a cross-party parliamentary group.

Jon Lovell, head of sustainability at property consultancy Drivers Jonas, told a packed meeting at the House of Commons entitled The Credit Crunch: Challenges for the Green Buildings Agenda that feedback indicated green issues were still valued by clients.

He said: “What is very interesting is that those sectors which are traditionally risk-averse – such as developers and investors – are putting sustainability at the top of their agenda as the thing to get right, as it will differentiate them in a tight market and ensure resilience in the context of regulatory change – which we can anticipate to continue at pace.”

The event was organised by the All Party Urban Development Group and pressure group the Aldersgate Group in response to the economic downturn.

Peter King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: “I am not denying the severity of the challenge home builders are facing but this is not going to go away and the regulatory environment is only going to get stiffer.

“When times are tough business is very good at adapting and responding. It will respond with strategies which are sustainable for business and for the planet.”

But some of those attending the debate questioned the positive outlook. A Crest Nicholson representative said its customer surveys showed sustainability was “not in the top five of purchasing criteria” and a Barratt representative said home builders were being threatened with over-regulation.

Peter Cosmetatos, finance and investment director at the British Property Federation, argued the Government should be careful of introducing any new regulations. He said: “At present the focus of the Government should not be on increasing the compliance costs to business in any significant way.

'Given the more difficult economic context the main thrust of policy for the next couple of years must be to focus on ways, other than regulatory measures, to encourage improved performance.”

He said existing tax levers such as stamp duty, Enhanced Capital Allowances, VAT and business rates had to be carefully reviewed and the property industry had to come to a consensus on measures which “will really change business behaviour ” at a reasonable cost.

Mr Lovell accepted incentives needed to be looked at but he said stronger regulations could be expected from Europe while it was also essential the UK Government ensured existing regulations were enforced properly through post-occupancy compliance testing.

He said: “Policy is seriously undermined if the application of existing regulation is not done robustly. We need to focus on the evidence.”

A Department for Commun-ities and Local Government spokesman said: “We recognise the current economic challenges but the targets we are setting are long-term ones, and as the Stern report showed if we are to minimise the damage caused to the economy by climate change, then we need to take early action.”