Peter Verwer

By Tina Perinotto

Peter Verwer is on a roll. When it comes to the environment, Verwer, who heads up the Property Council, on behalf of the country’s biggest developers and property owners, is unblinking.

Revolution?

No problem.

Transforming the built environment to survive climate change will require the biggest revolution since the industrial age – precincts that generate their own power, mine their own waste and collect and process their water, he says.

It will involve creating smart grids that take green power and feed it straight into existing brown [coal fired power] grids. It will mean rebuilding everything you see out there, he says, waving to the city streets outside his Sydney office window.

What climate change will do for the built environment, he says, is create “yet another urban revolution.”

“Revolutions are nothing scary for the property industry. They’ve presided over every revolution. Ultimately it’s the built environment which houses all social activity.”

The industry will simply work out what’s needed, plan it, finance it and deliver it. Then pass it on to the consumer, public or private.

But Verwer has a string of key public policy changes the industry wants the federal government to adopt, to make sure all the levers are calibrated in the same direction. Starting with gross feed-in tariffs for energy production. Currently Australia has a mish-mash of systems that often counteract the incentives of going solar or using any other form of renewable energy.

“And we need to change building controls that were designed to stop typhoid and cholera, so we can mine waste,” Verwer continues.

And deal with the rules that mean “500 million litres of water each year is wasted on testing fire sprinkler systems.

“We can change those rules, but that’s just another example of where public policy setting is wrong.

“So in order to get this quantum leap in the environmental performance of precincts we need major policy changes.”

“Business and NGOs [non-government organisations] have already started that debate.”

Of course what all this will also need is the rebuilding of the federation itself, Verwer says.

“We need to modernise the federation.”

By this he means achieving, finally, what the property industry has been hoping for for decades – the same rules and regulations country-wide.

“We don’t want to have eight different set of rules in relation to trigeneration and co-generation.”

And it would help to have a national energy market so that energy certificates can be traded across the country. Including of course, in taxes, and property controls that drive the national developers and national property owners to distraction.

For the important things, he says, such as family law the states and territories are quite capable and happy to harmonise. They can do the same on climate change issues.

And of course it won’t hurt a bit if they can rid themselves of the different taxes and rules and regulations that drive national developers and property owners to distraction.

“We don’t need eight different conveyancing systems and eight different payroll tax system.

“We don’t have eight currencies.”

But the big thing Verwer wants, and which he will put to Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, at today’s 4 pm forum that the Property Council will hold at the Sydney Intercontinental, is the federal government sets some targets for the property industry to “de-carbonise the built environment.”

Right now the Property Council thinks the government has put together a successful set of programs and policies to achieve this.

What the PCA has done, on behalf of the government, is to pull all the various elements together to form a bird’s eye view – the semblance of a cohesive plan.

What it’s missing, according to Verwer, is a target – in particular for the property industry.
He would like to see the Federal Government repackage its programs so that built environment-specific programs are clearly identified or branded.

With targets.

He has “no problem” with a disclosure regime (on the energy consumption of buildings)  but why not state what the target for emissions savings is?

This is the fundamental catch cry of the PCA – to set the regime, and let the market decide how it wants to achieve the targets, which it says is how you achieve efficiency.

And Verwer thinks it would be a relatively straight forward matter to separate out the built environment’s share of the load. Repackage the programs, so to speak – one set for the general economy, one for the built environment.

Of course if the built environment produces 75 per cent of emissions, then that will be the majority of the responsibility. Verwer tends get annoyed when the issue of how much of total emissions are sheeted back to his industry.

“Let’s just say it’s 100 per cent. Let’s say cars are also part of the built environment because you need them to move around between buildings, so property gets to carry all of the guilt.

“You still need a target.”

“How much can the housing sector save? It should be possible to say we want the Building Code of Australia to deliver 165 per cent improvement.”

And whether going from four star to six star housing actually delivers better emissions savings and, if so, by how much? For Verwer, saying it will be better  for the environment isn’t enough.

“We need a budget.”

And no, he doesn’t mean, how much can we afford to save this year.

“We’re just kidding ourselves if we don’t set a budget. Without this it it’s not joined up [public policy]-  it’s ad hoc and piecemeal.”

To do this the government needs to do some modelling. After all they can model the economy, they should be able to model emissions savings, he says.

Of course the property industry has done some modelling. It’s worked out that accelerated depreciation would achieve “210 megatonnes abatement over 10 yeas. That’s 6.2 million cars off the road each year. Now I can understand that.”

And you can be sure Verwer will make the message equally clear to Peter Garrett.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au

The Fifth Estate – for sustainable property news