The worrying reality, however, is that there is a serious housing shortage and this lack of supply has led to extraordinarily high house prices. Even the recession hasn’t done much to devalue bricks and mortar. Compounded with the difficulties of getting a mortgage the prospect looks utterly hopeless for the average first time buyer hoping to get a foot on the property ladder.
Humans Invent spoke to Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs fame to hear his thoughts on the future of modern, sustainable housing. His programme has introduced us to a host of elaborate and eccentric self-builds, built by people who can afford to live out some kind of post-modernist fantasy but at heart McCloud’s passion lies with developing eco-friendly, affordable housing for families with a modest income. Last year he did just that with his company Hab (Happiness Architecture Beauty) developing the Triangle Housing Project in Swindon: a group of sustainable, affordable houses that serve as a model for future housing.
One problem we face in the UK is lack of space. We are a small island that has traditionally been very keen to reserve open green space and the countryside. This doesn’t fit too well with the pressing need to construct a large number of affordable homes to house our growing population. Strict planning laws have forced the value of land up to dizzying levels.
McCloud says, “In the south east of England, 2/3 of the value of the home can be the land which is ludicrous. In Germany where land is freely available and is regularly released by the government, the houses are one and a half times as big as in the UK and cheaper.”
It is a fact that we need to be building hundreds of thousands of houses each year to fit the need of our growing population but these new houses also need to be environmentally friendly as well as affordable. With McCloud’s development in Swindon, innovative ways of reducing carbon emissions were devised, including the use of hempcrete for the outer walls. Mixed with hemp, this material is not only a very good insulator but takes more carbon out of the atmosphere than it puts in.
The Triangle development is just one example though. How far have we come in general concerning the development of hundreds of thousands of eco-friendly new-builds that are needed in the UK?
McCloud says, “We have sort of ground to a halt, we were doing not very well before the recession and now we are doing pretty abysmally, because we are hardly building anything. I built a scheme last year, 42 homes, hooray, that’s 42 homes but we need to be building 200,000 homes a year and we weren’t even building half of that before the recession.”
Especially in this time of recession, there is a misconception among some that to have an eco-friendly house is a luxury for the very few who can afford to have a conscience about the future of the planet. In reality, however, McCloud claims it could be a sound investment to pay a little more for an eco-friendly home over a conventional one.
“I think if you’re presented with two homes, one of which costs 1 or 2% more than the other and that slightly more expensive home is actually really warm, dry, draft free and well insulated with minimum running costs and it might have solar panels etc- I think most people would plump for the idea of having some kind of protection from the volatility in fuel prices, yeah for sure. Why wouldn’t you want a warm, well-insulated, comfortable house that is cheap to run? It’s a no brainer.”
Despite the difficulties the recession has brought us there are still enough people out there who are investing in eco-friendly technology and as McCloud says, “It’s all about volume and supply.” As soon as various technologies become more popular then companies will have a wider scope to market their products.
McCloud says, “There is nothing like a good piece of Government legislation to drive industry…if somebody says to you in 2016, there will be zero carbon on new homes, (companies) will suddenly think, blimey there is a market there, let’s put research into it, let’s put millions into research and develop some amazing products that are going to service this market and that’s what’s happening. The last Labour government introduced a 2016 target, this government is now ratcheting up the deadline for the green deal so it will be interesting to see where the prices go but inevitably it will get cheaper.”