The Cusp of Change: Why values must drive housing strategy

Today’s blog comes from Jez Sweetland, Project Director for Bristol Housing Festival.

The Bristol Housing Festival is currently hosting our Virtual Expo 2020, which brings together experts in the industry, local government and residents to discuss innovation in housing, and how it benefits our communities, particularly as we look toward recovery post COVID-19. As the discussions have unfolded, one thing remains clear to me: values must drive our housing strategy.

We’re in the midst of a housing crisis, a climate emergency and a construction skills shortage, and now we also have the repercussions of a global pandemic to consider. Although one of the priorities must be to get more affordable homes built, there is an opportunity to engage with a longer-term industrial strategy that also considers how we drive the values that will support the quality and sustainability of those homes.

In a recent report called ‘Build homes, Build Jobs, build innovation: A blueprint for a housing-led industrial strategy,’ Mark Farmer and Mike De’Ath suggest we are suffering from a market failure in the UK’s ability to deliver truly affordable housing and that innovation, engaging in a new supply of manufactured housing known as Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), can be a critical part of the solution. In the context of that existing market failure, various industry reports are concerned that the housing sector is soon to face increased mortgage hurdles, rising unemployment and impacted savings deposits, all of which may lead to a significant reduction in people’s ability to buy homes as we emerge from the pandemic. As with other recessions, we may see a downturn in the traditional supply of housing post COVID-19.

While this looks bleak, the urgent need for affordable homes and the recognition of our existing market failure also provides an opportunity to look at supporting a new supply of housing. MMC is looking well set to provide some of the solutions in that space. Both national and regional governments are already committed to seeing a diversification of supply, so we are already on the cusp of change. Within Bristol we are now seeing a number of new MMC housing developments progress (ZEDpods, BoKlok and Legal and General Modular) to deliver high quality, sustainable homes which are all making contributions to the affordable housing needs in Bristol with a significant number of these homes being retained by Bristol City Council to provide social housing for the city. 

Those new developments are all part of a wider Innovate UK project of which Bristol City Council is a lead partner. The project looks to help ensure MMC can be wisely deployed to provide the housing the city needs, designed around shared objectives on quality and sustainability.

On 16 October Bristol One City and its partners set out priorities for Recovery post-COVID-19 with the launch of its Economic Renewal strategy. In that context it is crucial to not only think about the change that is needed to meet housing demand, but how new tools and new supply can also be part of our recovery and meet our sustainability goals.

To do this, we must also consider how to shape, co-design and protect the values of this emerging MMC industry and ask ourselves how Bristol and the South West can be right at the centre of creating the right kind of jobs and keeping the focus on the quality and sustainability of our housing. One of the ambitions of the Bristol Housing Festival is to help enable the South West to become one of the UK’s leading regions in the technology and deployment of zero carbon, quality and affordable homes delivered at pace.  There is a compelling case for the South West to make, building on local needs, economics, opportunities and existing momentum.  

It is critical that MMC doesn’t become about creating cheaper homes more quickly without that objective being underpinned by values around quality and sustainability.  The driving force behind those values depends upon public and private collaboration around shared objectives. If we keep values at the core, we have an opportunity to drive a revolution in how we think about and deliver affordable housing in the UK.The Virtual Expo 2020 runs from the 12 October – 1 November 2020. If you’d like to stay up to date with Virtual Expo news and events, you can join our Virtual Expo 2020 LinkedIn Group here, or visit our website.

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