Current construction methods are so wasteful we must effect change. Housing Association Magazine Editor Joe Bradbury looks at ways in which social housing can lead the way to more sustainable construction.
At a recent event at Mitsubishi Electric’s Hatfield headquarters, just shy of 200 specifiers, architects, Housing Associations, housebuilders and heating engineers gathered to hear a passionate presentation from architect and TV presenter, George Clarke where he called on the housing sector to radically transform the way we build homes.
Victoria Galligan spoke to Habinteg housing association’s Chief Executive Sheron Carter about the history of accessible housing in the UK, the latest standards in housebuilding and how more needs to be done to future-proof homes so they can be used for life…
Habinteg is a housing association with a difference – its properties are all built using an accessible design model which means people with disabilities can get around easily, and residents are housed within mixed housing so they are not isolated from the rest of society but integrated within it.
Way back in 2017, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, announced the government’s intention to build 300,000 new homes a year. The chancellor conceded there will be no ‘single magic bullet’ to increase the supply, and indeed two years later, we are lagging behind targets.
In my opinion, the target itself is relatively modest and entirely possible to achieve with existing and planned manufacturing facilities, despite the media obsession with productivity scores.
The current blame game that seems to be going on within the marketplace isn’t helping either, the latest coming from Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. His shot across the bows at Housing Associations was decidedly unhelpful and might have the effect of driving a wedge at a time when we need these institutions to help deliver on social housing requirements.
However it represents the narrow approach often adopted by Government (of all shades). We need more diversity, whether it’s architects, developers, construction methods or my particular sector, building materials.
Subsidence is often perceived as a nightmare scenario by social housing providers, who fear the disruption and cost of having to get it treated. However, fixing subsidence needn’t be a massive headache. The latest technology uses expanding geopolymer resin that is injected into the ground through small holes, meaning tenants can stay in their home while work is carried out.
What is subsidence and what causes it?
Subsidence is when the ground underneath a property can no longer support the weight of the building and as a result, the building begins to sink into the ground. Often this is just on one side, causing the property to lean and cracks to appear in the walls.
Modular construction is the process where building components are produced in a factory, before being transported to the site for assembly. The pieces arrive already finished, minimising the amount of technical work required onsite.
It is not a new concept, but in recent years the method has seen a surge of popularity, with both housebuilders and policymakers starting to realise its potential to solve a number of the industry’s current challenges.
From reducing a project’s environmental impact to saving developers money, the benefits of modular construction are tangible. It’s why the UK government has set a target of building 100,000 such homes a year by 2020 – a substantial increase from the 15,000 currently constructed annually.
Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg recently carried with her over a 15-day, 3,000-mile voyage across the Atlantic a powerful message; "our war on nature must end.” The 16-year-old sailed from Plymouth to New York on a zero-emissions yacht in order to minimise the carbon footprint of her travel and will be participating in UN climate summits in New York City and Chile.
If anything is to be learned from this, it is that the time for action is now.
Earth Overshoot Day, the day that humanity uses up its allowance of natural resources such as water, soil and clean air for the entire year, fell on the 29th July this year. This means that humanity is currently using nature 1.75 times faster than the Earth’s ecosystems can regenerate.