Plans, policies & projections: The latest government papers worth reading

May 30, 2018


It’s been an important month for housing and sustainability announcements, as both sectors continue to rise up the political agenda. Here’s a roundup of the latest papers, and what they could mean for housing providers.

Air quality: draft Clean Air Strategy 2018

What is it?

A response to the EU directive on cutting emissions, the new draft of the Clean Air Strategy sets out ambitions for reducing air pollution across England.

What does it say?

Key promises of the Strategy include:

  • Investing £10m in improved monitoring and analytical systems
  • Providing a personal air quality messaging system to inform the public of air quality forecasts
  • Supporting the funding of clean air innovation
  • Assessing and improving the air quality impacts of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)
  • Reiterating the pledge to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040

Sustainable Homes’ View

Air pollution is the greatest environmental threat to health, and progress on air quality has been slow in recent years. Substantive action and leadership from government is therefore overdue. Unfortunately this Strategy does not go nearly as far as it could have done. Promises of better monitoring and warning systems are welcome, but more is needed to tackle the causes, particularly in terms of vehicle restrictions and regulations.

What it means for housing providers

The government has reinforced its commitment to the phase out of petrol and diesel vehicles, so housing associations should future-proof their properties and offices by incorporating EV charging infrastructure and developing a plan for installment across all stock. Our Review of the sector found that just 11% of sustainable transport options are being facilitated so there is urgent need for action here, particularly as cities beyond London clamp down on air pollution.

A consultation is due on whether biomass boilers should be included under the RHI, so consider this when seeking funding.

Ensure residents – especially vulnerable tenants – are made aware of new air quality forecast systems. Be prepared for increasing demand from residents for electric vehicle infrastructure, car-free schemes, car clubs and other sustainable transport schemes.

London Housing Strategy

What is it?

The Mayor of London’s new housing strategy sets out plans to tackle the housing crisis in the capital and ensure adequate provision of affordable, high quality homes.

What does it say?

The document sets an overall target of 65,000 homes per year, based on local targets. Of the numerous goals and promises made, those relating to sustainability include:

  • Updating and consolidating London’s housing design standards into a single document
  • Delivering the London Environment Strategy, which already commits to zero carbon new developments
  • Improving energy efficiency of existing homes and reducing fuel poverty via the Mayor’s Energy for Londoners programme

Sustainable Homes’ View

The use of the present definition of ‘affordable’ housing, as 80% of market rent, is questionable considering just how high rent is in many areas of London. Additionally, clearer statements could have been made around the planned changes to housing design standards. Overall though this is a highly ambitious strategy that will require immediate action from all stakeholders.

What it means for housing providers

The Mayor has set an aim for London to become a zero carbon city by 2050. This therefore gives just three decades to ensure that all London housing stock is as close to zero carbon as possible.

The report also acknowledges the growing climate risks of water shortages and overheating. These should be taken into consideration in all new developments and retrofits; low-flow water fittings and passive cooling systems can improve the resilience of homes to a changing climate.

Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Hackitt Review

What is it?

The Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety was established following the Grenfell Tower fire to examine existing building and fire safety regulations and recommend changes to ensure a robust regulatory system going forwards.

What does it say?

The report identified that the current building and fire safety regulations are not fit for purpose, particularly in relation to procurement, product testing and listening to tenants. It sets out a new regulatory framework addressing these weaknesses, simplify and clarify guidance and regulations, strengthen oversight of dutyholders and reassert the role of residents. Key points include:

  • A set of rigorous dutyholder roles and responsibilities
  • A stronger change control process, ensuring dutyholders keep robust records of changes to plans
  • Greater transparency for residents on building safety and better involvement in decision-making
  • Tackling of poor procurement practices and consideration of whole life costing

Sustainable Homes’ View

The omission of a ban on dangerous cladding has been disappointing to many (although there are now government plans to consult on this). Besides this though there were numerous important recommendations made, and many of the points identified align with our own recent research, ‘Responsible retrofit: Rethinking quality’. In particular the plans to improve procurement practices and promote education support the recommendations in our research.

What it means for housing providers

The review signals to housing providers that this is an ideal time to:

  • Review procurement practices
  • Enhance and foster in-house technical skills
  • Reassess value for money weightings and consider a whole life costing approach

Energy Efficient Scotland: Route Map

What is it?

The Scottish Government’s plan for ensuring warmer, greener, more energy efficient homes by 2040. It aims for near zero carbon buildings wherever feasible by 2050.

What does it say?

The route map focuses on two main objectives: removing energy efficiency as a driver of fuel poverty, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficient buildings and decarbonisation of heat. Targets include:

  • 35% of domestic buildings to be supplied by low carbon technologies by 2032
  • 15% reduction in homes’ heating demand by 2032, via building fabric improvements
  • Reach EPC C for all Scottish homes by 2040 (where technically feasible and cost effective)
  • Maximise the number of social rented homes at EPC B by 2032 (to be consulted on)

Sustainable Homes’ View

The route map sets out ambitious plans for tackling emissions and fuel poverty. Proposed targets for social housing are particularly high, signalling a need for significant action in the short term that fits into a long-term plan for upgrading and building to the highest standards.

What it means for housing providers

Scottish landlords have ambitious targets to meet over the coming decades. The initial focus should be on retrofitting fuel poor and the least energy efficient homes. By carrying out deep retrofits and going beyond the minimum standards required, it is possible to future-proof stock against new and even more demanding targets, which should help prevent multiple retrofits of the same property over time.

Interested in exploring the implications of new policies and strategies for your organisation? Our new research, Housing 2050, will be investigating the actions that housing providers need to take over the next three decades to future-proof their organisation. Find out more and get involved.

 

Cecily Church

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