Housing 2021 got underway today after taking a year out from the physical arena due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the event was being held live in Manchester, for the first time since 2019, Housing Minister Christopher Pincher delivered his keynote address via a recorded message.
In his short address, Pincher spoke of the need to build a “fairer, stronger, and greener” country in the push to “build back better”.
Much of his speech focussed on decarbonisation and sustainability, reiterating the government’s commitment to the £3.8bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, which opened the first round of bidding last month.
However, Picher was also keen to push the government’s desire to create more “aesthetically pleasing” developments.
“Our plans ensure that aesthetically pleasing sustainable design will be the norm in new developments – not the exception,” he said.
Pincher closed his recorded speech by saying “we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity” to build back better.
James Prestwich, director of Policy and External Affairs at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), which hosted the event, praised Pincher’s address for its “positive themes” and “real ambition”.
In particular, Prestwich said there was “very, very positive” rhetoric around the green agenda.
However, Prestwich criticised Pincher’s speech for being “light on detail”.
He added: “There was a lot about houses and homes, but probably not enough about the people who live in them.”
National Housing Federation CEO Kate Henderson echoed this sentiment, saying she “didn’t hear enough about the consumer, our residents”.
For Henderson, however, the biggest omission in the Housing minister’s address was building safety – of which there was scant mention.
Eamon McGoldrick, managing director of the National Federation of ALMOs, said the omission was “really strange”.
Gavin Smart’s opening address
The opening address from CIH chief executive Gavin Smart was as another highlight of Day 1.
He began by praising the efforts of the social housing sector and those affiliated with it during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said “has changed the way we think about homes”.
Like many of today’s speakers, Smart was also eager to address the sector’s efforts around decarbonisation and net-zero.
“Perhaps the greatest challenge in delivering new homes is to make sure they are fit for net-zero,” said Smart.
An ensuing presentation from Savills added credence to Smart’s concern, highlighting the fact that 25% of respondents to its Housing Sector Survey said they have no net-zero plan.
Of those who did, 49% of respondents said financial constraints was the biggest barrier to reaching net-zero.
Other highlights of Day One included a discussion on whether MMC and digital could provide the “solution” to net-zero.
Sam Stacey, Challenge director at UKRI, said: “I am absolutely sure we can build much better builds that are more comfortable and are good for the environment.”
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