Already under unprecedented pressure from new legislative requirements and obligations, housing association leaders say they’ll struggle to meet mandatory energy and biodiversity goals.
To reach net zero by 2050, they’ll have to look beyond improving the energy efficiency of existing and planned housing stock and create sustainable and diverse green communities.
These were among the outcomes to emerge from this month’s inaugural Green Communities Summit involving the UK’s leading housing associations, organised by Ground Control, the UK’s largest landscape and maintenance contractor.
Representing 4.7 million homes across England, Scotland and Wales, the sector leaders came together to discuss the implications of reaching the mandated target of net zero emissions by 2050 – and to establish if a new green agenda was needed as a result.
The result of the industry’s first collective effort at identifying these challenges led to the publication of a new report and a commitment to set up a new think tank to explore the paper’s key findings.
Although specific legal targets for the social housing sector have not been set across the whole of the UK, many social landlords have their eyes set on 2050, when the UK is due to reach net zero carbon emissions.
However, mandatory targets for biodiversity gains that come into effect in 2023 will cover all new residential housing developments.
Sam Jones, Social Housing lead at Ground Control, said: “The purpose of the Summit was to get leaders together to see if where the industry is in relation to meeting the Government’s green agenda.
“It’s apparent the housing stock won’t meet the 2050 goal of net zero emissions, so the use of existing outdoor space has become an important element to reach those goals.”
However, three quarters of the Summit’s participants admitted they’re not equipped to utilise green spaces as part of their net zero journey.
“It will impact every area of our sector. It is also one of the greatest opportunities we have to make a meaningful difference.
“However, we know ten percent of social housing will never be sustainable enough to make it to net zero.
“As social landlords we will have to look at innovative ways to use existing green assets to create carbon offsetting and biodiversity enhancement opportunities in the green spaces we manage.”
To accelerate the process, the report identified five immediate ways the sector can maximise the benefits of sustainable open spaces for customers, communities and society as a whole:
- Use its influence and power to create a blueprint for how natural systems can change lives for the better
- Develop a long term open space strategy which prioritises green space as being equally important as buildings
- Consider the powerful resources already available to capitalise on including, parkland, woods, green spaces, verges, scrubland, lakes and canals
- Focus on quality open spaces, whatever the size of the space
- Invest in what’s needed to enable people to engage with the outdoors and enhance biodiversity
Lord Kerslake, chair of the Peabody Trust said: “When it comes to the sustainability agenda housing stock is front and centre for housing associations, but we also have vast areas of open space and trees we can bring to bear.
“That makes us well placed as a sector to improve biodiversity and promote carbon capture.”
David Godfrey from the Thames Estuary Growth Board said: “The Government’s 25-year Environment Plan identifies the need to place environment and biodiversity at the heart of planning and development to create better spaces for people to live and work.
“The report marks the sector’s first co-ordinated effort to work together to make a reality of this.”
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