MPs slam government over greening its buildings

The Commons Public Accounts Committee has delivered a searing indictment of the government’s performance on meeting sustainability standards in managing its own buildings.

Only 9% of refurbishment projects could be shown to meet required environmental standards, the committee found. And just 35% of new-builds and 18% of refurbishment projects were assessed, even though assessment should be mandatory.

The government spends £3 billion per year on new buildings and refurbishments. It has set sustainability standards for both but the committee found these were not being monitored or met.

The committee calls for wide-ranging improvement. It found that lines of accountability and enforcement were not clear and it exhorted the government to take a leadership role in establishing cross-departmental common contracts for items such as green energy.

Noting the “perception of conflict between sustainability and budgetary constraints”, the report calls for whole-life costing of buildings. The Treasury is urged to simplify the application of this, find ways to allow flexibility on capital spending and “actively assist departments” to implement sustainable design and cut whole-life costs.

The Committee also recommends that:

  • DEFRA should develop a lighter-weight alternative to BREEAM for assessing smaller projects, where performance is particularly poor
  • The Office of Government Commerce should develop standard clauses for outcome-related environmental specifications to be incorporated in all construction contracts, and see that they are adopted by departments
  • The Office of Government Commerce should also find way to encourage departments to meet environmental objectives and achieve better take up of “quick wins”, perhaps by including “incentives or recognition schemes”
  • Post-occupancy evaluations should be carried out on all new properties and refurbishments
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