The 2020 NextGeneration Innovation Forum: building homes for a healthier future

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30 June 2020

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Covid-19 has turned the world on its head in 2020, so what better theme for the NextGeneration Innovation Forum this year.  Three expert speakers imparted their wisdom on how best the homebuilding industry can batten down the hatches and then build back better to safely combat the lasting impacts of COVID-19 in the residential sector.  Below are some key takeaways from the insightful presentations given by Jon Neale (Head of UK Research at JLL), Andy von Bradsky (Head of Architecture at the MHCLG) and Clara Bagenal George (Founder of the London Energy Transformation Initiative and Associate at Elementa Consulting).

Covid-19 has caused the worst recession since the end of the second world war. However, the homebuilding sector doesn’t look quite as bleak, as everyone still needs somewhere to live right?

While there have been slight reductions in house prices, in recessions it is the number of unit starts and completions that is disproportionately affected. For example, after the global financial crisis UK unit starts dropped by 57% to 100,000 new homes a year. Jump to today and we can see the sector is being supported by a raft of initiatives to mitigate against this, from stamp duty and mortgage holidays to base rates by the bank of England being cut to 0.1%, the lowest level in history.

Homebuyers are in for a rough time as Covid-19 is affecting who can buy and what they are looking for in a home. The young, while generally being less impacted medically by Covid-19, are having the door shut on them when it comes to homebuying as they are more likely to be unemployed and are currently renters. Meanwhile those that can afford to choose are projected to be prioritising health and wellbeing and green space, particularly as with an increase in homeworking, the commuter sphere will stretch further afield. Even so, this doesn’t mean a mass outflux from London in the long-term, as while some look to leave, , who feel more invincible to Covid-19 and who are less equipped for home working due to the size of dwelling they can afford. Overall the key for homebuilders is to listen and adapt to what their customers want.

Some of the expected design considerations required following the Covid-19 implications of a home becoming an office are comfort, space, adaptability and amenity. Amenity requirements are rapidly evolving for homebuyers, with outdoor space such as gardens and balconies becoming increasingly desirable.

And it’s not just the homes that need to change – on a development scale increased capacity for active travelling such as wider pedestrian zones is a clear must. At the same time, compact neighbourhoods are a necessity to allow communities to access critical amenities such as shops or health services without using public transport. While developers wrestle with these evolving community needs, it is vital that they engage with the people in those communities.

But Covid-19 is not the only predicament mankind is currently facing down: climate change is going to shake up the industry, through changing legislation, climate risks and consumer demand. To help homebuilders, LETI has produced the Climate Emergency Design Guide which is based on the work of over one hundred industry professionals and is a valuable resource for creating net zero carbon homes. From all this research, the critical number identified for the residential industry is 35kWh/m2 yr-1. This is the figure that represents the absolute amount of energy per unit of area per year (energy intensity) a home should consume if it is to achieve net zero carbon and not overuse its share of energy in the UK.

Nevertheless it is not just about numbers and design guides, it is also about people taking action. One of the best ways to help this is making climate change tangible. For example, in a development in Washington, once the harvested rainwater runs out, a resident must manually change to the mains water supply. This action forces people to realise that there is not an endless supply of water, much like there is not an endless amount of excess CO2 emissions the earth’s systems can endure.

We would like to thank our speakers for providing valuable insights into the critical issues we are facing as an industry. From NextGeneration’s perspective one of the key takeaways is that homebuilders must be attuned to customers’ changing needs in a world shaped by Covid-19, both in terms of maintaining their health and wellbeing, alongside responding to the increase in homeworking.

NextGeneration looks forward to seeing in the future how the industry surmounts these challenges, to support sustainable living for all.