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Let’s work together to build sustainable new homes – protecting people, places and the planet

Greg Reed Places For People

Reaching net zero carbon targets is a responsibility that we all must bear, and it is the duty of our sector to find ways to protect people, places, and the planet.

As an investor, creator and protector of homes and communities across the country, our priority is putting people first, finding ways to give our customers access to homes that are affordable, energy efficient, and well placed in sustainable neighbourhoods.

Right now though, the construction sector as a whole isn’t achieving its targets, and data suggests the industry currently accounts for around 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the UK.

The detail in the data

We have a long-term relationship with The University of Cambridge’s Centre for Housing and Planning Research, and in our new jointly published paper, we explored this issue, looking at how we can create more net zero carbon new build homes. We also explored what can be done to mitigate the impact of the new build housing sector moving forward, and how we can alleviate the burdens of costly, unsustainable homes for our customers.

Entitled Net zero ready new build housing: benefits and barriers to delivery, the report is the fourth collaborative report by our two organisations as we seek to improve housing delivery in the UK.

The purpose of the paper isn’t to dictate or to advocate specific technologies. Instead, it is intended to promote dialogue with key players in the industry, providing informed data on new build properties, so that we can make educated decisions in context – resulting in homes that help customers live more sustainably.

The report was not without its challenges though, and it was important that we took our cues from credible primary sources – government white papers and industry data. We opted to present the data in a concise manner in the hope that peers will also take it forward into their own plans. 

Collaboration is key

We made a series of concluding recommendations, especially around collaboration. It is clear that no single organisation will have the skills, resource, or supply chain to single-handedly reduce the sector’s carbon impact, so we must set commercial sensitivity aside and be open to forming more partnerships.

We have a good track record already here – be it with private sector partners like ilke Homes and Urban Splash, or with central government as part of our role as a strategic partner to Homes England.

Places for People is also a founding partner of Unlock Net Zero, and we remain on the advisory board of this network, exploring how we can deliver net zero commitments. We are also a founding member of the Future Homes Consortium; we established this group in summer 2021 and have already grown from 12 to 17 members, regularly meeting to discuss practical solutions that will improve existing homes and the future provision of homes.

The Future Homes Consortium draws on the expertise, experience and networks of its members. It seeks to identify partners nationally and globally to create synergies to test out new products and services which will make a difference for customers.  It is my hope that we can leverage this research and our relationships along the way.

We are also a founding partner of Unlock Net Zero and continue to be part of its advisory board and an active participant in this network, continuing to explore how we can work together to deliver our net zero commitments.

The bigger picture

Sharing best practice will also help instil confidence in housebuilders as they invest in new ideas. Many have pivoted to modern methods of construction (MMC) – be that fully modular homes, or sustainable MMC elements of a house, such as composite flooring and doors – with methods that help to reduce the embodied carbon of a new home.

One realisation within our research though was that existing white papers are heavily focused on MMC as a route to net zero, but we think it’s time to look at the bigger picture. The creation of net zero new build homes is rightly a priority, but any gains will be outweighed if these homes aren’t in sustainable neighbourhoods. We could build the most eco-friendly home on the planet, however if it’s remotely located, away from amenities and where customers have to drive everywhere to sustain their lifestyle, then we’ve failed.

Working together, we can address this; by investing in newer construction techniques and developing sustainable places which promote community life – places in which schools are within easy reach, where open space is in abundance, and where green transport links are easily accessible – be they public transport or cycling and walking networks.

Learning and listening

We operate in a fast-moving sector and there is still much to be done as we strive to make all of this a reality for our customers.

We need more direction from central government. As acknowledged within the paper, the government relaxed sustainable homes guidance, and there’s currently nothing formal in its place for new build homes. The result is a sector that is making decisions without context, so we need better policy and direction that will further help housebuilders.

We must also be confident in gathering our own industry data – sharing it with peers to help us make informed decisions. Putting people first and engaging with customers through post-occupancy evaluation will really help achieve this. In listening to the feedback of people living in our homes and communities we can gather robust data on net zero carbon homes – something which could help us understand how the adopted technologies and designs perform in practice – and what can be improved. Setting standards as an industry for this will allow us to compare data and better recognise what does and doesn’t work.

Our research raises more questions than it answers. It is a starting point that we hope will provoke conversation with both our customers and our peers, encouraging everyone to come together and help increase the delivery of truly sustainable new homes and communities.

Read the full Net zero ready new build housing: benefits and barriers to deliver report.