Tony Cowling investigates how local authorities are using their power to build new housing to invest in homes that are setting new standards of comfort and energy efficiency, and in the process delighting tenants and challenging perceptions of public housing.
Stop press latest news on 22nd June 2017 see this nice report we wrote out piece below nearly six months ago.
Recent public sector housing developments are helping prove that social housing can be a force for innovation in energy efficient new housing. Groundbreaking work carried out by a number of local authorities is showing that new buildings can be constructed to robust low energy standards far exceeding the requirements of current building regulations at no additional cost. Not only are these homes proving easier to heat, but their design and the standard of finish required to achieve the high levels of energy efficiency also make them a much better product:
- Feedback from tenants is that they like these properties because, unlike the majority of homes that they have lived in before, they do not suffer from condensation or mould, they have low heating costs and they generally have fewer problems. In every respect they are preferable;
- Feedback from the landlords and managing agents are that they are less likely to have tenants with rent arrears problems and having these properties vacant is rare as everyone wants to live in this type of accommodation. As soon as one becomes vacant there is a queue of families wanting to take it over; and
- Feedback from the client authorities is that they have been pleasantly surprised to find that the costs of building the new homes is no more than the equivalent property would have been had they merely been constructed to meet current regulations. Exeter City Council in 2015 completed their Reed Walk development of six terraced new homes where the out turn costs showed a zero uplift compared with a development that simply met minimum building regulations. Once the procurement framework has been established the process worked well and the overall costs were lower for both themselves and, perhaps more importantly, for their eventual tenants.
Here in the UK the impact of all this will hopefully be to force the big developers to also build to a similar low energy standard. If they don’t, innovative social housing providers will simply take over their share of the market by offering a superior product at the same or even at a lower market price. There is now a new playing field but who are the next generation of players going to be?
Examples of how social housing providers are reducing costs of low energy homes
In 2009 that Exeter City Council commissioned 21 new flats to be built to a robust low energy standard (Passive House). This initial development cost 20% more than it would have done had the flats been built to the building regulation requirements at that time. However, having set up the procurement framework structure and with the experience gained on the initial development, it has been possible to deliver subsequent developments at no more than they would have cost had they been built to the standard required by building regulations. This was for a small development where it is more difficult to work economically and was reported at the Encraft conference in Birmingham in 2016. Norwich has since followed suit and both local authorities are helping social housing providers to deliver further projects. In Ireland Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s decision to make the passive house standard mandatory for all new buildings in the county – albeit subject to public consultation – may prove to be the decisive breakthrough to make genuinely low energy building mainstream in Ireland where there is already a groundswell of activity in this area.
To read more about these developments