Monday, November 28, 2022

Re-building Ukraine

Ukraine needs millions to recover. Initiatives have been initiated by the Government but the truth is that Britain cannot even afford to contribute its share.

There is a need for imagination to be able to play our part. 

Reuters reports Russia's invasion of Ukraine has cost over $97 billion, according to the World Bank, the Ukrainian government and European Commission.

Meanwhile, the UK government is urged to increase payments to British families playing host to Ukrainian refugees.

There has to be another way to make a significant contribution to our national and international initiatives. 

But there is a lot of public goodwill, and many will be able to help. We need a ‘Ukraine Peace Investment Lottery’. It is a voluntary way that the population can contribute without burdening the poorest in society with more taxes. 

The initial revenues will immediately increase payments to people who have Ukraine refugees in their care or to house those who have lost their accommodation. 

After that, with the assent of the Ukrainians, funds will be deployed to rebuild public assets such as water and electricity supplies and other public infrastructure.

With compassion, jobs, re-building, and refugee problems solved we can play our part at no cost to the Treasury.

Friday, November 25, 2022

The £157 Million Robbery

Photograph: Family handout/PA
In my book (Climate Change House)  I make a lot of references to filtering air in houses. Today we see headlines about the deadly effect of mould after the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak.
Why not save the NHS £157 million this year. The latest findings, published in a report from Public Health England, that warn these costs could reach£18.6 billion by 2035. HEPA standard filtered air and heat exchange can mitigate a large proportion of this.

There is a mindset among those who would rebuild and refurbish houses and estates to create a gentrified model. The ‘renovated/rebuilt Garden City districts of mixed dwellings designed for middle class residents, students and the retired with lots of gardens filled with poplar and willow saplings on green space lawns is faulty. It seems that various neighbourhood habits become at odds with each other as a result of introducing new residents. Particularly low income residents feel their ways of life are becoming threatened. In terms of the right to the city debate, it is important to ask the question as to how democratic the mixing process is as well as how daily neighbourhood rhythms and perceptions of neighbourhood space are affected. The disadvantaged, by their nature, are not well represented in the debate about what rebuilding means to them.

The use of socioeconomic analysis of local communities to identify a real need at a point in time is essential.

It is evident that some standards need to be adhered to. Homes need to be well insulated and warm in winter and cool in summer. Not damp but dry with clean filtered air. The accommodation has to be adequate for current and future generations of users and set in a well managed estate. Pokey flatlets in exoffice blocks rightly have a poor reputation. As we continue to evolve, it is the case that homes will continue to grow in size.
The planning process outlined in chapter 7 still needs to apply in renovation, repurposing and rebuilding. After careful research homes need to be built to suit local need.  Posh repurposed dwellings with homeless beggars at the front door and elderly relatives stuffed into a bedroom are no solution. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

COP27 and the UK Housing Crisis

The UK is still walking backwards as one of its top crises, housing, is put to the test. 

Construction and renovation produce Co2 by the tonne and consume huge levels of unusable and seldom recycled resources.

The ground once absorbed rainwater and fixed greenhouse gases but is now covered in impermeable asphalt and concrete. So-called ‘energy efficient’ new buildings produce 1.45 tonnes of CO2 per year and use kWh/m2 of en Experimental Official Statistics based on Energy Performance Certificates per annum. use 276 kWh/m2 a year ((EPCs) - Ministry of Housing). So, no change there.

There are alternatives to concrete such as Hempcrete and Concretene (among others) and research into alternative materials is to be found all over the world.

We still accept that building a house will generate 80 tonnes of Co2 (for a cottage with two bedrooms upstairs and two reception rooms, and kitchen downstairs.

Each Member of Parliament should know that about 43 tonnes of Co2 are dumped on the world by each of their constituents annually.

Efforts to adapt the UK’s housing stock to the impacts of the changing climate: for higher average temperatures, flooding and water scarcity, are also lagging far behind what is needed to keep us safe and comfortable, even as these climate change risks grow.

Around 4.5 million homes overheat, even in cool summers; 1.8 million people live in areas at significant risk of flooding.

Average UK water consumption is higher than in many other European countries. Distributed water purification at house or street level is becoming a practical opportunity. Removing a large part of the need for massive collection and purification infrastructure is a welcome alternative and will reduce the loss of water from a national crisis of mains water leaks. Big is bad. Local is good.

Cost-effective measures to adapt the UK housing stock are not being rolled out at anywhere near the required level.

In its 2021 report ‘UK housing: Fit for the future?’ the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned that the UK’s legally-binding climate change targets will not be met without the near-complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. Single skinned commercial buildings are still being built!

The report finds that emissions reductions from the UK’s 29 million homes have stalled, while energy use in homes – which accounts for 14% of total UK emissions – increased between 2016 and 2017.

In the United Kingdom, renewable energy generation will need to increase by 50% by 2025 if the country is to reach its climate and energy targets.

With this in mind, a close examination of the UK Climate Risk report, an independent report to government published in early 2022, is important. This assessment takes a look forward 50 years (and beyond) being the minimum projection for the life of houses built and renovated in the next months.

It also notes that although the Paris Agreement commits the nations of the world to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, projections consistent with policies currently in place worldwide imply warming of between approximately 2°C and 5°C by the end of this century depending on the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and the response of the climate system to these emissions. This will further increase the shifts in weather patterns and extremes, further increasing mortal risks to people and biodiversity, with higher warming leading to greater risks.

Since this report was published the ‘wind drought’ of 2021/2 has reduced electricity from wind turbines by 17%. Shifts in weather patterns sometimes come as a surprise.

Around 1.8 million people in the UK already live in areas of significant flood risk. If the frequent occurrence of major flooding events continues – which it has done in the UK nearly every year since 2007 – it is estimated that the number of homes at risk of flooding will rise by 40% to 2.6 million in as little as 20 years.

Every MP, Peer and Permanent Secretary needs a tattoo on the back of their hands. It needs to read 'Climate Change Mitigation Warrior'.

Author of Climate Change House which is available here

COPing out of Climate Change Protected Housing

Restoring, insuring and living in dwellings that are not climate change mitigated is far more expensive than renovating, refurbishing and re-building poorly prepared homes.

It is easy to kick the climate change can down the road but evidence of how it can affect us NOW is frightening.

The main cause of the 2022 gas price crisis has grown because of the increasing gas demand (organically, following the pandemic) and reduced gas supplies caused by the Ukraine war.

Additionally, unseasonably low wind generation in the UK (particularly in September 2021 and the winter of 2022) sometimes reduces green energy availability.

Lower pipeline gas flow from Russia to Europe (and other Europeans have similar housing problems and bigger gas supply issues), less storage capacity, and higher carbon prices have focused minds on developing carbon-reduced power. It is a narrow perspective. There is a need for a much wider view of these issues.

The home of the future will need long-term policies to keep the lights on.

Will government encourage the use of new materials and communication without wires, wifi or Bluetooth that are already appearing on the market?

Will roofs protect against heat waves without using mains power to maintain a healthy population?

In June 2022, the government introduced a new set of regulations for new housebuilders. They set new standards for ventilation, energy efficiency and heating, and state that new residential buildings must have charging points for electric vehicles.

The Federation of Master Builders says the measures will require new materials, testing methods, products and systems to be installed. Indeed so it will. The price of climate change mitigation is not cheap.

There are new government rules concerning the amount of glazing used in extensions, and any new windows or doors must be highly insulated.” The problem is that the rules will aim to reduce the size of windows that are potentially a source of a lot of solar power and, potentially, winter heating as well.

Glazing on windows, doors and roof lights must cover no more than 25% of the floor area to prevent heat loss according to the new regulations which is a rule that has already been superseded.

The regulators obviously had not seen see-through solar panes (see right Photo: Richard Lunt / Michigan State University) which need bigger windows to generate more electricity.

Some say that walls will have to be thicker in order to comply with requirements for better insulation. Alternatively, new materials may make them thinner but the building sector has not got there yet.

As properties become more airtight, the regulator says there have to be measures to ensure proper airflow, such as having small openings (trickle vents) on windows that allow ventilation when a window is closed. Tosh! Do the job properly, save the NHS billions with proper air filtration.

"In November 2021, a research team at Addenbrooke's Hospital and the University of Cambridge reported that they were able to use HEPA filter/UV steriliser air purifiers to remove most airborne traces of SARS-CoV-2 on surge wards at the hospital. The air purifiers also successfully filtered out other bacterial, fungal and viral bioaerosols (airborne particles containing living organisms).  Even pollution from traffic can be blocked."

For people extending their homes, they may be required to install a new, or replacement, heating system depending on the size of the build and have to use lower temperature water to deliver the same heat, which will require increased insulation of pipes commented insiders. Its a big rock for all these ‘experts’ to hide under. Solar water heating is getting really good. Why not use it.

So the government get 5 out of ten for initiative and 2 out of ten for understanding what is needed and possible. It can also be said that technologies are moving so fast that some of these government initiatives are passed before the ink has dried on their parchment.

Meantime we also have to consider the prospect of poor quality housing in a time of fast-expanding populations and accelerating environmental change. It will be dangerous but also a magnet for disruption by the green-eyed disadvantaged.

In the foreseeable (next 30 years), houses will need to be easily maintained and repurposed in part or whole as technologies emerge. The need and cost of structural maintenance also have to be reduced

It is not possible to think of a future house in the image of a house being built in 2022 and its close cousin that was built to house 18th-century coal miners. It is time to change.

Monday, November 07, 2022

A Million Homes Will Need to be Retrofitted for 30 years

Housing need manifests itself in a variety of ways, such as in solving increased levels of overcrowding, acute affordability issues, young people living with their parents for more extended periods, and impaired labour mobility (resulting in businesses finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff), and increased levels of homelessness. Then there is the problem of “fit for climate change dwellings”, which is the majority of all homes.

Older properties need to be updated. Around 18% of the UK's annual emissions come from existing homes, which will still be standing in 2050. 80% of 2050’s homes have already been built.

It is also widely acknowledged that the retrofit challenge is monumental. Every year over one million homes will need to be retrofitted for 30 years. We cannot afford to retrofit them twice. But if we retrofit them well, we can enjoy many environmental, social and economic benefits.

New houses need help to achieve sales. 313,043 households have now bought a home with the support of the Government’s ‘Help to Buy’ Equity Loan Scheme. The question to ask is whether the houses were built to meet the local need or were they built speculatively and required subsidies to sell them?

House price escalation has attracted fund investment resulting in circular property inflation. Meantime the housing stock cannot match the needs of a growing population (this applies in Scotland and Wales as well).

As the government White Paper puts it: “It is no longer unusual for houses to “earn” more than the people living in them. In 2015, the average home in the South East of England increased in value by £29,000, while the average annual pay in the region was just £24,542. The average London home made its owner more than £22 an hour during the working week in 2015 considerably more than the average Londoner’s hourly rate and that's over twice the minimum wage.

That’s good news if you own a property in the capital, but it’s a big barrier to entry if you don’t.

Meantime the growing move towards house prices falling is a problem. Recent figures add to evidence that, despite government subsidies, the property market is now in the grip of a downturn, with experts predicting values could fall by more than 10%. That would erase some of the gains made over the last two years.

Many houses are in poor condition, and a significant proportion of the housing stock is unused.

There were 225,845 Long-Term Vacant Dwellings in England in 2019, an increase of 9,659 (4.5%) from 216,186 in 2018. Long-term vacant dwellings at 0.9 per cent of the 2019 dwelling stock in England are an interesting underutilised housing asset.

Thus we have knowledge of the nature of the housing stock in the UK. There would seem to be a lot to be done not only to add to the housing stock but to bring the existing properties to be climate change ready.

Photo by Hisham Yahya

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Smaller Government


Smaller Government - here's how

It is difficult for a government to implement cost-cutting policies in the short term but having made the commitment there is a need to deliver.

One of the big costs is the employment of huge numbers of civil servants.  The plan here is quite long-term and involves the reform of Royal Chartered Institutions but in beginning the process, the government can claim to be making fundamental changes.

Royal Charters, granted by the sovereign on the advice of the Privy Council, have a history dating back to the 13th century. They work in the public interest (such as professional Institutions and charities) and can demonstrate pre-eminence, stability and permanence in their particular field (The Carpenters’ Company is a City of London Livery Company. It received its first royal charter in 1477).

There are many Chartered Institutions such as the RIBA, RICS, RTPI, The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, The Chartered College of Teaching and so forth. For the most part, membership is confined to people who are qualified to be members and mostly, there are ranks of members to cater for levels of competence. Membership is also limited to people who pay a subscription.

There are requirements to have achieved a level of competence to practice.

Thus, for example, members are educated and mandated to be good at what they do. It follows that such Institutions have a considerable role in ensuring best practices and have a role to play in monitoring failed performance of members.

The Institutes already exist but are in many ways acting with little by way of mandate.

Shifting the current cost and quality of managing high levels of performance from the government to the professions is a method for significantly reducing staffing costs and, at the same time, improving the quality of public sector management.

There is a need to mandate the Institutions to recruit and educate members and provide Continuous Professional Development for the lifetime of membership. The cost would be borne by the Institution and paid for by the membership.

In a reformed structure, no government agency will be allowed to use or employ people without a relevant qualification to practice. Government agencies will be financially liable for all remedial activity for poor performance by anyone other than a professional practitioner and responsible public sector managers will lose their qualification (and membership
of for example the Chartered Management Institute) to practice. 

In the private sector organisations will have to insure against any unprofessional activities of employees. 

There is also a need to recognise different levels of learning and class of activity that members can undertake as, for example, a postgraduate internship, basic membership, professional membership and Fellows for example.

This has the advantage that different stages in the development of practice can be benchmarked for earnings set against the minimum wage. An example might be an intern receiving the minimum wage plus 5%,  membership plus 10% over the minimum wage, professional qualification at 15% and so forth. This would remove the need for wage negotiation and would have be agreed by members of the Institution.  It would set the range of payment based on the national minimum wage, recognising that, in the first instance, remuneration would have to be competitive or members would not be able to find employment.

With such examples, the public sector would not have to pay for education and training, wage negotiation and other non-productive activities. It would also mean that occasional/part-time professional requirements can be entered into with the secure knowledge that a professional would be employed as needed.

There are further standards to be applied. 

Institutes would be mandated to monitor the quality of performance of their members.

The Institutes would be mandated to insure against poor/unprofessional performance by members.

Poor performance of members should entail the removal of membership from their Chartered Institute. 

 Where Institutes are poor at monitoring and enforcing best practices, they should lose Charter status (and after six months of remedial activity, could apply to recover Charter status from the Privy Council).