The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the property & construction sector. Whether it is talk of the future of the office, the future of work, the future of the home or indeed our high streets, the role of our physical environments and the vibrancy of the sector more generally has been at the fore. Recently, the Prime Minister has raised the prospect of additional support for home buyers to put rocket burners under the sector. We’ll see how this plays out.
Perhaps more interesting for me is the Green Homes Grant scheme to upgrade buildings to make them more energy efficient. It has become the flagship policy of the Green Recovery everyone has been clamouring for, on all political sides, and critically in the electorate.
Embedding the Green Recovery in the construction sector is a significant move. The built environment contributes over a third of our carbon dioxide emissions – not to mention the entrenched fuel poverty issue that blights all of our towns and cities. Bearing down on the climate impact of our built environment is a challenge that demands radical action and ambitious thinking. The detail of the scheme is yet to be finalised, but the Green Homes Grant initiative -if done right- has the potential to drive much improved standards in the quality of our existing and substantial stock of homes from a Net Zero proofing perspective.
As a firm that is designing and bringing forward an array of different forms of housing, whether bespoke homes; urban and suburban units; growing family homes or those for older adults; we recognise the critical importance of ensuring our homes are as energy efficient as possible and using materials that are least harmful to the environment. However, we need to go beyond upgrading the existing stock and drive construction standards to meet the Net Zero challenge for the present and -most importantly- the future. Moreover, the epidemic has showed how also the spaces we live in -be it homes or offices or commercial areas- are subject to radical changes. The houses we design and build now need to withstand the test of the UK’s changing climate and lifestyle.
The Government’s push for more building is undoubtedly necessary and timely. But this is the time for the Government to turn ambition of intents, shown through the establishment of its “Building Better, Building Beautiful” Commission in 2019, into actions. Normalising the use of natural materials in construction is an important development where the Government could and should lead by example, as shown by a new French law requiring that at least 50% of materials used in the construction of any new public building must be natural and low emission. Encouraging the different players in the construction sector to think about genuine place-making, rather than individual developments, needs to become the norm if we are to successfully adapt to the new lives we are living. As our Sky House schemes show, creating houses fit for the future (i.e. energy efficient) that are beautiful and support the creation of communities in regenerated urban areas are not impossible to achieve.
Most importantly, though, there cannot be any compromise on overall building standards. Quantity and beauty of new housing and commercial spaces should never come at the expense of quality. This is something that can only be guaranteed through a strong regulatory framework and delivered by a strong commitment from the Government to a genuine Green Recovery and better, fairer country.
We’d be really keen to hear your views.