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2018 predictions: Will the housing conundrum finally be cracked?

2018 themes homes
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Richard Waite asked leading figures about their hopes and expectations for 2018

‘Local authorities need to catch up in policy terms with the possibilities for the PRS sector to fill the expanding social housing void’

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Glyn Emrys, Emrys Architects

Ideally, local authorities should go back to building housing for rent. But with few signs of this happening, and councils having lost the skill set to be able to deliver, developer-led private rental sector (PRS), is now a credible alternative. Given that there is virtually no central government funding, the difference between traditional social housing providers (housing associations) and private developers is minimal. With higher and higher expectations for social housing delivery, local authorities need to catch up in policy terms with the possibilities for the PRS sector to fill the expanding social housing void.

In a fully PRS scheme the size of development at which discounted social rent may be considered should not be set at 50 units or more as it is currently. Instead, it should be set at the same level as any other social intermediate offer. Size should not be a barrier as small PRS schemes can also be managed professionally. The discounted units could be nuanced to blend the level of discount across the offer: tailored to suit the level of social affordability, from say 50-80 per cent of market rent.

‘The UK has become a world leader in off-site construction using engineered timber and CLT’ 

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Anthony Thistleton, founder and director, Waugh Thistleton Architects

While the recent Budget’s target was ‘more homes’, there is little government direction as to how we’re going to achieve this. 

There is also a big legislative hole left from scrapping the Code for Sustainable Homes and the potential environmental disaster created by solving the housing crisis: building 300,000 homes would create emissions of 6 million tonnes of CO2 a year. 

Added to that, we face the well-documented shortage of skilled workers to build these homes, which will only get worse as we head for EU exit. 

But there could be light at the end of the tunnel. The UK has become a world leader in off-site construction using engineered timber and CLT, presenting methods to develop and build quickly and to high quality with a massively reduced detriment to our environment.  

The UK has seen 500 CLT schemes built in the past 10 years, and we now have two serious investors pushing CLT into the modular realm and challenging the declining quality and output of the housebuilding sector. 

Perhaps the future looks brighter after all?

‘It’s time to stop talking and start building’

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Roger Zogolovitch, Solidspace

The current debate on housing supply reduces the argument to either build up or build out; high-rise or suburban sprawl. Instead, let’s make new housing on our gap sites – build in. 

Architects are fortunate to have the imagination to unlock this potential. We can build for public bodies, to rent, for the community or for profit, but build we must. We should demand that planning is rolled back and only regulates the shape, size and material of the external envelope. We must permit the use of the internal spaces to be fluid to respond to changes in demand.

These structures need our best efforts to make them beautiful, elegant and solid. They should sculpt the space in direct response to the circumstances of each plot. They need to be small and individual. They need to represent the memories of the part of the city where they are located. They should be made personally and passionately by a partnership of architect and client. They must be environmentally efficient and spatially exciting. They could be a social enterprise community project where learnt skills are passed on to future generations. 

As architects, we have the responsibility for the future by finding and making homes for the widest possible communities. It’s time to stop talking and start building. 

‘We need to be bolder in changing the system to keep pace with today’s needs, updating planning to reflect how people are living today’

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Richard Upton, deputy chief executive of, U+I

Real change won’t come just by building more homes, but by thinking imaginatively about design and ambitiously about creating communities where people actually want to live. Public and private sector must approach projects intelligently to create mixed-use developments that will sustain and support the future communities of our cities. Through Public Private Partnerships, we can unlock redundant public land, keeping these assets in public ownership while creating communities where people can live, work and play. 

We also need to be bolder in changing the system to keep pace with today’s needs, updating planning to reflect how people are living today. Decisive action is needed when it comes to reforming space standards. Rental-only compact living developments, delivered in partnership with local authorities to make the most of redundant public land, would enable young, middle-income earners to move back into London’s city centre, breathing life back into the heart of our capital city. 

This is not about rabbit-hutch housing, fitting in as many people as possible for maximum profit. World-beating design will be crucial in delivering high-quality spaces that work with the way people live now. 

None of this is easy, but the solution to the housing crisis is not straightforward or simple. I passionately believe we’re at our best when we work together. Only through collaboration between developers, architects, the public sector and communities can we begin to address these challenges with imagination and audacity.

‘We expect to see a big shift towards modular housing, including measures to reassure suppliers’ fears about order levels being maintained’

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Alan Wright, partner at bptw partnership 

To start to get anywhere near the government’s target of 300,000 homes will require fundamental changes in how homes are developed. We expect to see a big shift towards modular housing, including measures to reassure suppliers’ fears about order levels being maintained, enabling the industry to invest in technology that will help boost quality and speed of production.

Grappling with the challenges of housing products that come in many shapes and sizes before being assembled on site to form a single unit will see a variety of systems being considered, with steel frame ‘boxes’ that suit high-rise construction and cross-laminated timber for low to medium rise blocks likely to emerge as the main options for developers.

As architects, we worry that the drive to intensify development will lead to a proliferation of proposals for dull high-rise blocks, but at the same time, this will offer opportunities for creative design that architects will need to grasp, responding to the welcome pressure to meet higher standards of urban design and place-making. Greater commitment to raising the quality of construction and closer scrutiny of work on site also offers opportunities for architects, at the same time the way architects are trained will need to adapt and the spiralling costs of university education will need to be addressed.

That said, with 25 per cent of our staff from inside the EU, we remain concerned that the effect of leaving the EU will make it harder to recruit skilled architects and technologists, something that is already happening in towns outside the larger cities.

‘Many of the answers are found in Europe, such as a properly regulated rental sector, and a more diverse house-building industry’

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Anthony Hudson at Hudson Architects

Despite saying housing is a priority, this government is incapable of addressing the crisis either in terms of quantity or quality. They would have to untangle a legacy that has allowed large housebuilders to dominate the market, where planners have aided and abetted them with a planning system that is not fit for purpose and within a regulatory framework for selling and renting that is paltry. 

The government is too caught in the headlights of Brexit to focus properly, which is an irony since they only have to look across the Channel to find ways of getting out of this mess. Many of the answers are found in Europe, such as a properly regulated rental sector, a healthier and a more diverse house-building industry with local authorities leading the way. All this provides better quality and quantity of houses.

The Netherlands went through a similar crisis 10 years ago, forcing it to diversify. Now look, for example, at the extraordinary results of the custom and self-build housing schemes. Take Nieuw Lieden with its wonderful dense city blocks or the co-housing apartment schemes in Amsterdam. Or most amazingly, the possibility to commission a house via loans from banks and local authorities on an income of only £30,000. And because these are co-operative schemes, communities emerge from the outset before even a brick has been laid with quality being uppermost in everyone’s minds.

It requires a radical vision from central government to allow local authorities more freedom in financing their own schemes but also to enable these opportunities to blossom. It is a missed opportunity for both those who are looking for an affordable house and the profession, but one we should continue to pursue in 2018.

‘The London mayor’s focus on ensuring good design is particularly encouraging’

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Shariar nasser bw

Shahriar Nasser at Belsize Architects

Crystal balls are much used at this time of year, but right now most seem to be made of frosted glass. It is impossible to see how events will unfold in the coming year. The good news is that the government – or at least the prime minister – is now firmly focused on housing, even if the detail of how the chancellor’s Budget measures will turn into new building will take time to emerge.

Much will depend on what local authorities decide between their own priorities and how vigorously the opportunities potentially there open up. And in London, at least, the mayor has set out his stall with clarity. The focus on ensuring good design is particularly encouraging and should provide excellent opportunities for those of us who combine imagination in place-making with the innovation needed to keep costs contained so that ‘affordable’ really means affordable.

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