G Bringing Down the Increasing Costs of Building Sustainably; the Recent BREEAM Row That Has Developed Following the Government's Suggestion to Scrap Green Standards for New School Buildings Has Put the Issue of the Costs of Sustainability Back on the Agenda. Wakemans Director Adrian Aston Reviews the Debate

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Byline: Adrian Aston

* overnment plans to drop BREEAM assessments for school construction projects sparked a wave of criticism from industry experts, many claiming that it would send the wrong message to the rest of the industry and that it was not acceptable to abandon BREEAM for schools with no alternative.

The Department for Education made the recommendation to drop BREEAM as part of the James Review, which singled out the BREEAM regulations for criticism, citing the excessive burden of regulation and guidance in procurement and high costs for carrying out pre-assessment of BREEAM for schools. The question of can we afford to continue to construct sustainable buildings has been asked many times during this recession.In the private sector landlords are subject to market forces which have dictated the need to incorporate green credentials in order to maximise letting potential and rents. In the public sector there is an urgent need to start investing to create jobs and stimulate the economy but cutbacks are putting pressure on budgets, which has led to this situation with schools.

There is no doubt that BREEAM is not perfect. There are many improvements that could be made to create an assessment that was less complicated to administer and also more focused on the practicalities of how a building works and integrates with its environment rather than a strict tick list and points system.

The James Review was not proposing that schools have no environmental stands applied but criticised the complexity of the BREEAM system and how expensive it was to achieve.

Certainly some streamlining of the process would be helpful but a review of what BREEAM is meant to achieve and a new way of measuring sustainability could help bring the costs down.

There is also a need to collect and analyse the recent data that is now available from schemes where new technology has been used. While there are lots of environmentally friendly heating and cooling systems, controls and water conservation products these do not always deliver the expected savings over the lifetime of the building. These products are usually more expensive to purchase and install but can leave building owners and occupiers with larger than expected utility bills. We have seen this with some grant funded community schemes, where the management of the building is not sophisticated enough to allow the savings to materialise.

For public buildings like schools we also need to consider the commitment to sustainable communities. How well a building meets its obligations with regards to creating opportunities for local employment or contributing to the economy are not considered enough by the BREEAM process. …