Ben Derbyshire writes 'Why asking for feedback can help us all' for Housing Today

We are committing to net zero targets as an industry, writes Ben Derbyshire – but how will we know if we are succeeding? 

In my last column, I challenged homebuilders to set themselves performance targets showing that the development industry is committed to the government’s 2050 Net Zero target. The RIBA has done just that, with its Climate Challenge 2030, and at HTA Design, my own practice, we have signed up to deliver the stretching targets it sets.

With a growing number of practices joining up, the institute is now working with sister institutes and other national institutions to co-ordinate across the development industry as a whole.

But how will we know whether we are succeeding? Such evidence as we have attests to wild over-optimism in our predictions of performance.

Clearly, we will only ever close the performance gap if we set up an effective feedback loop that enables us to learn what works – and what does not.

And as the energy performance targets steadily increase, learning becomes all the more critical. That is where post-occupancy evaluation (POE) comes in.

The good news is that the housebuilding industry is already engaged in the business of customer feedback – registered providers care a lot about their tenants’ experience of management and housebuilders are generally assiduous in obtaining feedback on the purchase and after-sales experience. So the feedback loops are already established – albeit in fairly limited areas of building performance.

This month, the RIBA is publishing an updated Plan of Work for its members to follow. This is a template for practitioners that sets out their service offering in plain English for professionals and clients. The new Plan of Work comes with a suite of supporting information by way of guidance, and corresponding updates in the standard terms of appointment. 

There are a whole raft of revisions to the Plan of Work, including provisions that improve its suitability for use with modern methods of construction, building information modelling, procurement and so on.

But when it comes to sustainability, there are two key changes. First, the project team is recommended to identify a champion for sustainability to work right through the project lifecycle.

Secondly, preparations should be made early in the project to enable the client to experience a “soft landing” when the time for handover comes.

That is to say the users are enabled to operate the building as intended and the projected performance is tested through post-occupancy evaluation, which is fed back to the project team as well as the client.

I have long argued as chair of HTA, and during my time leading the Housing Forum and the RIBA, that building professionals should be able to offer enhanced project feedback, costed into their normal service.


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