All change for residential development?

House builders woes never seem to end.

Initially they were forced to go into hibernation in an effort to conserve cash as demand dropped. Some companies like Persimmon actually suspended all construction work regardless of what stage work was at. This saw the sites turned overnight in to Mary Celeste style abandoned sites with materials, plant and machinery literally left where they were the day before. Gleeson actually closed down their Hampshire HQ and moved the business back to Sheffield to the plant hire depot. Desperate times required desperate measures.

In conversation with house builders its been obvious for a while that they simply don't know what to do. Demand has plummeted or even completely disappeared in some cases and last month a couple of major regional players were telling me that it's only a matter of time before they go out of business if mortgages don't become easier to find soon.

They won't be cheered by Knight Frank's latest report, The Future of Residential Development where they have picked up on the non trade buyers that are picking up sites for a song. Perhaps they are looking to sit on them after taking Mark Twain's advice * or perhaps they are looking at JV's with construction companies.

Whatever the reason it is a worrying trend that won't help the chronic lack of new dwellings that are being built in the UK to house the growing population. The governments own target of 240,000 new homes a year looks like childish optimism when we weren't even hitting those numbers when times were good. Numbers of completions are around 60,000 pa at the moment. Unless somebody has got their numbers very wrong this crisis is laying in wait.

So perhaps housebuilders will become just that in the future - builders of houses on land owned by others.

* "Buy land, they're not making it any more”

Where shall we put them?

So just where can we install our PV arrays?

The first consideration is that they should be at or adjacent to the point of need. It doesn't matter if that need is a house, a factory a distribution warehouse or even an airport or car park.

Next we need to take advantage of the existing below ground (and occasionally overhead) infrastructure. The power grid is already there so we have no infrastructure costs, just the costs of the actual installation.

Planning laws could almost have been written for rooftop solar installations. So long as it isn't a conservation area, a listed structure and it stays below the ridge line there are few issues.

Finally, the bigger the green problem, the bigger the need and potential for making a real impact. So think airports, car parks, transport hubs, factories, docks, motorway intersections and service stations.

These are the places with actual energy need, and an actual environmental problem. The more savvy operators will understand why they need to do something, but many others will need to see a good business case before they go for it. It's OK because we can do both. If they only see the PR benefit then so be it, at least everyone else will know that they have also done the right thing.