In order to meet its goal of delivering 50,000 new affordable homes by 2021, the Scottish Government urgently needs to encourage companies to invest in sustainable, affordable and efficient methods of housebuilding, writes John Langley.
Just last weekend, 8,000 people slept out in Edinburgh to highlight the issue of homelessness in Scotland. A very worthwhile cause and one that raised much awareness and funds, however the issue of housing supply in general stretches far and wide across Scotland. It is at a crisis point; there can be no denying it. We don’t have enough housing at a social or affordable level and certainly not enough to meet the demands of continuing city centre growth in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.
The government has committed to building 50,000 affordable homes in Scotland by 2021, however according to recent figures the actual number being constructed is between 800 and 900 fewer per quarter than are needed to meet that target.
Current predictions show that this housing crisis is going to get worse in the next decade, and as Finance Secretary Derek Mackay delivers the draft Scottish budget on Thursday 14 December it is vitally important that the Scottish Government looks to address this as a priority. Lack of supply pushes up both demand and prices, and we are now witnessing almost complete exclusion of some demographics in the house ownership market, let alone in the areas of social rented or affordable housing.
The Scottish Government, through the Local Government and Communities Committee, talks about sustainability of housing and the importance of energy efficiency, however we are not currently seeing a significant drive towards delivering this.
Scotland is a country that has evolved and thrived through its innovative approach and ability to approach problems differently. We really need to find this enlightened thinking in our approach to housing if we are going to meet the demand and build stock that will last and benefit our people and the environment well into the future.
In Scotland, particularly outside urban areas, construction projects often face challenges due to remote locations, large geographic spread and inclement weather. This is where methods of housebuilding need to be reviewed to consider offsite manufacture and prefabrication. Building in a clean, dry, and most importantly safe environment can only improve standards across the industry. New computer software, technologies and machinery advancement has meant that entire developments can be prefabricated within a factory environment and shipped to site for highly rapid installation.
The introduction of construction techniques such as Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) has been slowly increasing. It does require marginally higher upfront costs, but the long-term benefits for residents, landlords and the environment significantly outweigh these initial outlays. These benefits include rapid construction times, low energy usage due to the excellent insulative properties, limited thermal bridging, and inherently air-tight characteristics which can deliver Passivehaus standards.
There are a number of areas that are ideally suited to new and innovative methods of construction, for example social and RSL housing; Private Rented Sector housing; Local Authority Housing Association builds; educational buildings and classrooms; and low-energy commercial buildings.
We have a real opportunity and more than that, a real need, in Scotland to innovate and change the way we build all types of housing. There needs to be a focus on low energy usage and speed of construction, without sacrificing structural or design integrity. We need to build houses quickly, but we need them to last and benefit our environment and those living in them by reducing the amount of fuel to heat and light them. Now is definitely the time for a more enlightened approach to housing in Scotland.
- John Langley is director at JML Contracts