AN ASSESSMENT OF THE YEAR – Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments

year in review2015 has flown by but as we look back at the year a lot has happened externally in the industry both good and bad while we have seen to see a continuing stream of clients seeking sustainability-based building assessments. A somewhat nervous start to the year with the industry wondering what sort of Government would emerge from the Election saw a slowdown in housebuilding but this was balanced with a rise in commercial activity – which we bore witness to working on a number of new projects.

Although Help to Buy was helping to sustain consumer confidence, tighter regulations on mortgage lending kept housebuyers subdued in the lead-up to the Conservatives’ win in May. However the sector has started to pick up since the summer, bolstered further commitments from Government to build 400,000 homes by 2020 including 200,000 starter homes, backed by a hefty £2.3bn to help developers build them.

Housing Associations on the other hand remain worried, as the Government continues on its path to extend Right to Buy for more social housing tenants, which reduces HAs’ ability to build based on the traditional model of borrowing against projected rental income. However in more positive news towards the latter half of the year, the London housing and economic ‘bubble’ which had been holding the market up began to spread across the UK during the year, with other major urban areas seeing positive figures on housebuilding.

It has to be said that 2015 will be remembered in the sustainability community as the year the Zero Carbon Homes project died, with the Government deciding to cull the 2016 target post-Election, which would have given housebuilders one less hurdle to jump through. The ending of Green Deal funding from Government was probably less of a shock, but we remain interested to see what the BRE’s Peter Bonfield will come up with as an alternative following his major consumer-focused review of Government energy efficiency policies which is due to report early in 2016. From what we hear he has taken the fairly clever step of putting the ball back in the industry’s court to develop appropriate schemes, rather than wait for a top-down approach from Government, as that isn’t likely to happen.

Talking of the BRE, we celebrated the 25th birthday of BREEAM in 2015 within our regular series of blogs, realising that the world-beating sustainability assessment tool is now being used in an amazing 72 countries to bring teams together and achieve better buildings. We are glad to see it continuing to fire on all cylinders and evolve over time, as a key weapon in our armoury as assessors. Part of the industry-driven quality improvement that we may see in 2016 may come from the Home Quality Mark, which is an important offshoot of BREEAM hoped by BRE to replace the Code for Sustainable Homes and incentivise consumers as well as housebuilders to demand better houses across a huge range of criteria. This star-rating stamp of quality has yet to fully emerge but it should be one to watch in 2016.

From a staff prospective, we have had a productive and fun year, with one member of staff giving birth to a baby boy, staff members triumphing in our company karting race, and raising over £4,000 for charities from including Children With Cancer. We also had two more staff certified as BREEAM Assessors, taking our team delivering BREEAM assessments to a total of four.

Over the year our blog posts have covered a variety of topics relevant to the positive impact of sustainability in construction, from the growth of district heating and what that means for UK towns, to what needs to be done to ensure responsible timber sourcing. We look forward to bringing you more topical and interesting blogs in 2016, and with the UK signing up with the rest to the binding Paris COP21 commitments on limiting global warming, the momentum for sustainability in construction is going to continue, giving us ample fodder for comment.

It only remains for me to wish all readers a happy festive season and a sustainably prosperous New Year – see you in 2016!