As COP28 begins in Dubai, we’re asking: how can the UK construction industry play its part on the journey to Net Zero? And what can we at Goram Homes do to help set the standard?
Our development manager Charlotte Brace was at the Future Homes Conference last week, and sustainability was top of the agenda. She tells us more:
“We should be designing communities through the eyes of an 8-year-old child, because if they’re happy with where they live, everyone else will be too.”
This quote at last week’s conference was a powerful reminder that we’re not building houses or apartments, we’re building people’s homes. Families’ homes. And we need lots of them.
The Future Homes One Plan
The plan states that, over the next 25 years, “the UK needs to build six million new homes to give everyone a decent affordable place to live. Over 200 thousand households are currently experiencing the worst forms of homelessness. 11million households spend over 40% of their income on housing.”
We also face catastrophic climate change, with rising temperatures globally and more frequent and intense weather events, fires, and rising sea levels. We also face an ecological emergency too, with declining wildlife species across the UK.
According to the Future Homes One Plan, around 17% of carbon emissions in the UK are from the residential sector.
What’s the solution?
So how do we build more sustainable homes that are genuinely affordable, and help tackle both the housing and environmental crises we face? We need to find more innovative ways of doing things and, I believe, establish motivated partnerships with people passionate about making a change.
Goram Homes is Bristol City Council’s housing company and we were set up in 2018 to build homes at pace, on council-owned land, to meet the housing need in our growing city. We average 50% affordable housing across our pipeline of sites, so we’re building hundreds more council homes and shared ownership properties than housing policy dictates.
This is down to successful joint venture partnerships, and a shareholder priority that goes beyond just profit. And for a council that declared both climate and ecological emergencies in the last five years, sustainability is imperative too.
We set high standards for low carbon and Net Zero homes
We also use RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge targets to design and build low carbon homes, and would recommend this tool to others. RIBA has developed this challenge as a stepped approach towards reaching net zero, and it sets a series of targets for reducing operational energy, embodied carbon and potable water.
We also target EPC A when we build – the most efficient energy rating for a new home. The median average energy score for new homes in England and Wales is EPC B. Something we should continue to ask ourselves though: are these the right KPIs? What else should we be measuring ourselves against?
Places should be designed for people and planet
DEFRA policy in England will dictate a 10% biodiversity net gain from January 2024. The RSPB’s Carl Bunnage told us 73m birds have already been lost during his lifetime, and 1 in 6 bird species are at risk of extinction in the UK. That stark reality makes you sit up and think… is just hitting policy standards enough?
At Goram Homes we aim to exceed policy standards on Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), and, on some sites, we’re exceeding 30%. We also work with Building with Nature, which is a voluntary framework to build developments that work for people and wildlife. Out first development, One Lockleaze, was recently awarded a Building with Nature Full Award.
We must build healthy, well-connected communities
Building for a Healthy Life sets a great standard here, covering 12 themes, including: good walking and cycling routes, connectivity to local facilities and services, healthy low-speed streets with places to sit, and space to chat or play, and of course green spaces that support wildlife and improve biodiversity. We aim for green lights in at least 10 categories.
What about technology?
Technology in some new eco-focused homes can be bamboozling, so developers should educate new residents, and streamline technology.
At our Hengrove Park project, a new neighbourhood of 1,435 new homes, we’re building an energy centre powered by air source heat pumps and connected to a district heating network. All the new homes will benefit from low carbon heating and hot water without needing their own in-house system.
The skills gap
The conference included much discussion of the skills gap, and the current workforce being put off either by changes to building regulations or the need to refresh training.
At One Lockleaze we set up an on-site skills academy in partnership with our homebuilder Countryside Partnerships, which offers free short courses for anyone aged 19+. Crucially, it gives a CSCS card on completion. Next year, we’re running plumbing courses, and will continue to respond to the local need too.
So, does all this come at extra cost? Will homeowners pay a green premium? What about “green mortgages” and “green skills”? All valid questions.
For me, it’s solved by collaboration. We work with the council to meet the housing need, with local people to design our schemes, with sustainability experts who hold us to account, and with developers who turn our ambitions into reality. And our partnerships are proving it is absolutely possible to build affordable, sustainable homes at scale, and train the next generation while we’re doing it.
What we must do is continue to learn, adapt, and respond to the changing world, so we build the right homes today for the children of tomorrow.