25 Aug 2009

Eco Bollocks Award: The Living Wall

Back in June when I visited the BRE Onsite exhibition, I saw not one, but three examples of Green or Living Walls on display. Having never seen one before anywhere, I was immediately suspicious. Here are some of the photos I took.

For those remaining in blissful ignorance, a living wall is an upmarket version of a trellis with clematis or honeysuckle growing over it. Instead of a few slats of timber, you have to create a stainless steel grid screwed or bolted onto the fa├žade. And instead of a bit of judicious watering of an evening during dry spells, these living walls come supplied with their own self-irrigating systems.

OK, it’s not exactly designed for the domestic market, but it does sort of strike you as an invention the world really doesn’t need.

But I didn’t think anything more about it until alerted this morning to this story which appeared in the Evening Standard about a living wall in Islington that’s gone kaput and is now a dead wall. Because the irrigation system didn’t work. How surprising is that?

So I thought it would be a good time to offer it an Eco Bollocks Award. Haven’t done one for a while and this seems to me to be a pearl.

21 Aug 2009

Should Barratt be rescued?

Rumours in the City have it that Barratt will soon be coming cap in hand with a rights issue. It wants to be baled out of its debt mountain. If it happens, then expect a flurry of activity from the other quoted housebuilders who, with the notable exception of Berkeley, all seem to be sinking in debt that they can’t service. They are all waiting on an upturn in the housing market to enable them to get back to business as usual, get building and start raking in the profits once more.

If Barratt was a single householder, it would have been repossessed by now. “Behind on the mortgage payments, are we? Well, you’ve got two weeks to get out.”

But of course the UK housebuilders are collectively too large to be repossessed, so the banks don’t dare pull the plug. For a start, there would be almost no one around to snap up all the land which would be sold off, and this would put further downward pressure on prices, which the banks fear as much as anyone.

But what if the fabled upturn fails to materialise? What if the way things are now is how it’s going to be from now on? Maybe this is what a stable housing market looks and feels like? Instead of forever looking for signs of whether house prices are going up or down, just accepting the fact that they really don’t change that much from year-to-year and learning to live with the consequences.

One of which would be that we wouldn’t need cash-hungry housebuilders anymore.

11 Aug 2009

New Homes Too Small

News that CABE has found that new homes are too small will come as a surprise to no one at all. We’ve long known that the UK builds the smallest new homes in Europe. As there are no minimum space standards set out in the building regs or the planning conditions, why on Earth would we expect anything else?

And unlike the terraced homes that the Victorians built (which were also too small), there is no obvious way of improving the new homes we are now building.

The really uncomfortable question isn’t being asked here by CABE. Which is: were these small homes being built to satisfy a genuine need or were they a credit-fuelled gamble on rising house prices?

Or to put it another way, it didn’t matter that the bottom rung of the housing ladder was so small that you couldn’t actually get your foot on it, just so long as it was there.