Social housing sector running out of time to meet sustainability targets, say industry experts

Nine in ten social housing construction professionals believe the sector is in urgent need of new government guidelines if it is going to successfully meet sustainability targets, new research has revealed.

In a survey of 150 decision makers, including architects, involved in the specification of building materials used for social housing developments, 88% agreed that the sector cannot wait for the pending Decarbonisation Fund and Decent Homes Standard review to define how it is going to become more sustainable – it needs this detail now.

In addition, almost a third of architects (28%) said that the government is yet to adequately define what constitutes the design and build of a sufficiently sustainable home.

The research by Wienerberger, a leading provider of wall, roof and landscaping innovations, explored several key social housing issues, including the housing shortage, sustainability and building quality. It found that the sector was in desperate need of support and guidance if it is to overcome the challenges it’s facing. This guidance was expected to be included in the Social Housing Whitepaper which was released late last year, but it failed to clarify a number of key details the sector was waiting on.

When it came to when the sector would need guidance by, a quarter said that it was too late and that further detail was required in 2020 if it was going to adapt in time to meet the government’s sustainability targets. Over half (57%) of the architects surveyed believe that there is still time, but only if the government provides further guidance in the first half of this year.

Not only must the UK build more sustainably, but it also needs to increase the rate at which new homes are built to reach the government’s target of 300,000 new homes by 2025. 56% of social housing experts said that, like with sustainability, significantly more guidance and support is required from the government if it’s to meet this target.

As well as building greater volumes in a more environmentally friendly manner, the UK’s social housing stock needs to maintain a high standard of build quality. 71% of architects said that to improve standards without exceeding costs or being non-compliant the sector needs to improve how it collaborates and communicates so that it can share best practice methodologies, technologies and innovations.

To better understand the standard that housing needs to meet, more than half (57%) of the architects Wienerberger questioned said that the pending review of the Decent Homes Standard must provide clarity on building quality.

Wienerberger discussed its research findings with a panel of senior decision-makers from across the social housing sector during a virtual roundtable.

During the discussion, Michael Swiszczowski, Director at Chapman Taylor, shared his views: “While the targets are tough, if people think they’ve failed already then they might stop trying, so it’s important to keep going. As we’ve learnt, the government tends to follow the market and be reactive with its response. It’s the same with the sustainability agenda. We need to strike while the iron is hot and while people are passionate about it… I’d like to see this rise to the top of the public agenda again once we’re through the pandemic.”

Tomasz Romaniewicz, Associate at Bond Bryan, added: “I think we’re miles away from meeting the government’s sustainability targets to be honest. It has to be viable for businesses and at the moment it often isn’t and the guidance is muddy – we need a clear and viable route to the destination.”

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