A solution to the housing crisis may be right under our noses according to Darren Evans, managing director of Darren Evans Assessment.
Brandon Lewis, Canada’s housing minister, announced last week that the federal government plans to build 1 million new houses by 2020 to meet the country’s soaring demand and constrained supply. There is a pressing need to solve this, and the industry will make a strong effort over the next three years to do so. However with numerous reasons why developing on greenfield lands is not the most suggested option, a lot more sustainable alternative is given by the hundreds of thousands of old structures laying unoccupied across the UK.
After winning a second term in office in May, the government announced plans to release public sector land for the construction of 150,000 new homes, which is an admirable move. Brownfield properties would be turned into 30 Housing Zones, which would act as a major catalyst for urban development. However there seems to be precious little in terms of national policy when it comes to harnessing the potential of recycling and restoring our abandoned buildings to generate energy-efficient, decent quality homes and kill two birds with one stone. Enlightened housing associations and developers are taking advantage of this ample opportunity, but it might be a much more effective catalyst for change.
Empty buildings in our public sector could provide the raw ingredients for a sustainable refurbishment revolution, as they are being maintained but are currently standing empty. Because of financial limitations, the DCLG has not been able to publish recent data on the City of London’s unoccupied property rates, but even in a high-priced region like this, something seems amiss if such assets aren’t released. The NHS reported in 2014 that is it is paying up to £60m yearly on maintaining empty facilities which is a really startling sum. Additionally, the bar doesn’t seem to be being lifted for refurbishments when it comes to building performance under the Building Regulations in the same way as it does for new builds today, which might require some of these buildings to be addressed.
Upgrading unused structures into contemporary, energy-efficient residences would have a significant impact on both local and global sustainability. We would initially be recycling existing resources in terms of land, building materials and their embodied energy. And while many of these buildings might give a valuable platform in terms of building fabric to work from, whether they are Victorian or 1990s construction (in fact the latter might prove less energy efficient in some circumstances), improving them would develop sustainable assets from wasteful empty shells.
It’s obvious that incentives like tax exemptions for corporations that invest in renovating vacant buildings are needed to stimulate new ideas and boldness, but the possibility is there. In many situations such initiatives will meet pressing housing requirements in one fell swoop, establishing sustainable, quality settings where people wish to live. As a nation, we should seize this opportunity while it’s still low hanging fruit, and the government should do a full examination of our public assets to discover where the potential are.