This article is part of a series of articles which will reflect back on my recent experiences at the Sustainable Building and Construction Conference 2013 (SB13) held at Coventry University. Questions arose on; Is there enough social housing available today? Also with much of the 26 million UK housing stock built before the concept of sustainability was even envisaged will it be possible to upgrade the 9 million homes in need of upgrade in the near future?
One of the keynote speakers which addressed the Sustainable Building and Construction Conference 2013 at Coventry University was Chris Blythe representing the CIOB. The focus of Blythe’s presentation was on issues found within the UK housing market. In particular Blythe raised concerns with the “lack of social housing within the UK. Yet counter to this empty private houses or rooms.” Blythe also highlighted the “issue that house prices are far more than the average salary than 30 years ago. (With) Stamp duty preventing home-owners from progressing up the ladder.”
Moving onto the sustainability of UK housing stock with much of it being built before the concept of sustainability was even conceived, 26 million homes in fact which has had a knock on effect to what state our housing is in today. Blythe highlighted that within that stock “9 million (of those) homes are now in most need of upgrade.” Questions arose on whether this was possible with the confusion that existed over leadership and the lack of clarity of the direction that housing should be or is heading in. Within the presentation issues came to mind with the multiple false starts and ‘initiatives’ of new schemes which are going to revitalise and revolutionise the industry. The question is how many of these ‘initiatives’ are truly useful to the industry and possibly more important the consumer?
One of these initiatives is the green deal…..is it viable? Recently at Ecobuild 2013 many concerns were raised within various seminar sessions on the future of the green deal in particular the SLOW……. uptake, at last count 36 out of 26,000,000 homes have taken up the offer! Blythe highlighted that a lack of branding to the green deal and the lack of existing trusted brands involved could hinder its progress. Unless the larger manufactures jump in will the trust in the scheme develop to the level that is needed for it to succeed or even survive! Loan schemes rates were also questioned by Chris Blythe when compared to other standard interest rates. One other aspect which Blythe discussed was what happens during the sale of a house involved in green deal scheme, will the new proposed purchaser be happy to take on the green deal contract? Selling a house today is difficult enough with a heap of paperwork to process, potential buyers may be scared off with the additional green deal contracts to add to the pile!
Blythe showed figures of housing completion rates in recent years. The images showed that housing completion rates have dropped from 140,000 per year to around 90,000 per year, 2007-2012 period, yet at the same time the HBF satisfaction rate has gone up. The point raised by Blythe questioned whether the rise in HBF was due to statistical survey massage or in part down to the fact that quality is now more important in such a competitive period of housing. The current targets for housing is set for 250,000 new homes to be built each year, looking at the previously discussed figures are these targets even remotely realistic or possible with today’s tight budgeted industry?
In regards to training apprenticeships have dramatically rose since 06/07 from 184,400 to 520,600 in 2012. However as promising as these figures look could it be claimed that the rise in apprenticeships are a replacement for standing in the unemployment line, which in turn makes the unemployment figures look a lot better for current Government! Although one good factor in the schemes is that the completion rates of the apprenticeships are also rising in relation to the take up rates.
Now back to the core theme of the conference, sustainability. Many discussions were raised expressing concerns over not only on how do or should we measure sustainability but also, what risks or accountability exists for the targets which are often referenced and set in regards to it. One quote from Chris Blythe that I really enjoyed as many present did w was, “what legal obligations do politicians have to ensure that targets or policies are met, it’s not like anyone would go to jail if not!” It’s a statement in jest but at the heart of it there are some really points to discuss. Such as what accountability exists for the contractor or design teams? What measures are there or should be in place to ensure that those parties responsible ensure that there is a closer relation between building performance predictions and actual building performance. Could there be more nominal levels of risk/reward be applied to this criteria in future to improve building performance.
That concludes my first reflections on the conference with particular focus on Chris Blythe’s keynote speech this week. Thanks for reading this week, over the next few weeks there will be more exerts and reflections on the SB13 conference.