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The Housing Debate: Part 3

Could the UK get more ‘bang for its buck’ by upgrading existing homes rather than new ones; and the impact of the Homes & Communities Agency. Click here for the video of the round table debate.

MH: We talk about sustainability. I did try and do the research before coming here today. What I found quite staggering is that as of the moment there are only 30% of properties in the UK, which have adequate loft insulation. So I think we need to think much more broadly about UK PLC. It’s very questionable if you put £5,000 of investment into a new property, whether you are going to get a return. Now if you put the same £5,000 into insulating existing stock... The UK needs to look at where the benefit can be actually obtained.

PA: I agree with you. We’re pushing new builds to further levels and the gain is not that great, whereas the gain in existing stock is huge and we certainly need to pick that up.

That said, the existing push on the industry will bring our supply chain along and the supply chain has got to get sustainability issues cheaper. That will benefit the whole house building stock.

JS: It would be fascinating to know how the government ended up with Code Level 6. I did a fag packet calculation that the eco-towns would cost several billion pounds to achieve Code level 5. What would you do with several billion pounds in the existing housing stock?

I’m told there are five million that don’t have cavity wall insulation. So if you took several billion pounds and insulated those how much carbon would you save. I do wonder if anyone has ever sat down and worked out the bang for buck you get from different alternatives.

SD: I’d just like to re-iterate the big messages from the Calcutt review and remind everyone on the importance of the Homes & Communities Agency in taking this whole agenda forward.

The big messages were to understand house builders’ business model, which is about pricing for risk and uncertainty. What we said was risk and uncertainty is in land.

The important role of the Homes & Communities Agency is to help de-risk land and will certainly do lots of work around surplus public sector land to reach the market.

It will have Atlas as part of it, which advises on large-scale planning applications. It will have the Academy for Sustainable Communities as part of it, which is about helping and building capacity within local authorities.

The Agency is going to be not only a significant player in the house building industry, but a significant partner as well.

DB: Is it not true that the Homes & Communities Agency won’t actually come into being until April 2009?

SD: There are various strategic projects up and down the country between English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation where we are already collaborating.

The new agency comes into being in April 2009, which is only 15 months away, and will formalise a number of the structures that we’re already developing. What the Housing Regeneration Bill will do is to pull the two powers of the two organisations, plus some of the delivery functions of Communities and Local Government so you’ve got a one-stop shop.

NR: What is clear from this conversation is the challenges are enormous. I don’t think any of us can be entirely confident that they can be met.

But I think the downside if we failed to do our utmost to try and meet those targets what we’ll be doing in another five year’s time is looking at a position where the pressures we see at the moment are even worse.

And this is both the pressures for increased output of housing to meet the demand, which is currently not being satisfied, which in turn leads to disproportionate price increases in relation to inflation.

And secondly on sustainability, and while I agree entirely that we’ve got to do more about existing housing stock, we can’t be complacent about the challenge the world is facing through climate change.
If we don’t try to really ratchet up the levels of performance of our housing, which contributes about a third of total -carbon emissions, then our children will be very bitter about our failure.

I am still optimistic and I don’t minimise the difficulties but we’ve really got to try and we’ve all got to pull together to try to make it work.