How can innovation contribute to addressing the uk housing crisis?

Over the past few months, the Knowledge Exchange Team has produced a series of introductory blogs outlining some of our ongoing exemplar projects and what you can expect from this work over the coming months. This is the latest in the series and looks at our project on innovative housing developments, led by CaCHE co-investigator, Dr Tian Miao.

There is considerable weight attached by housing commentators that long-term problems in the housing system are in large part driven by shortages of affordable housing supply. In an earlier blogpost, housing supply was identified as “one of the biggest political and societal challenges of our time”, with build out rates presented as “one part of a much more complex set of processes that determine the speed and mode of delivery”. Another CaCHE project examines policies for improving housing affordability, which attempt either to increase supply or reduce “over-consumption” by existing households. In the UK, most attention has been given to the former, although attention is now also being paid to the latter. Another perspective altogether is that the housing crisis is not about houses at all – it’s about people!

This project looks at the housing crisis from a slightly different angle: the mismatch between desirability and availability. In other words, it is not just that there are too few homes being built, but that there are not enough homes being built in the places where people want to live. And, given that it is both difficult and expensive to build out the most desirable areas, innovative house building solutions may be needed to create new desirable areas to meet the demand. Innovative new developments would also include fully-funded infrastructure plans facilitating access to transport links and public spaces and services, such as schools and hospitals.

Innovation is a fundamental driver of economic growth and competitiveness, which is as true of housing as it is of any other sector in the UK. While new technologies and business models carry risk, there are examples of innovative practice in the UK. Since 1985, the UK has had 17 finalists and 3 winners in the World Habitat Awards – established for the identification and promotion of good housing and habitat practices – and is second only to the US. Off-site construction is also growing internationally, including the UK. However, as Gina Netto notes, examples of innovation in the UK “tend to be small-scale and isolated, and seldom receive sustained media or political attention” and “Serious attempts to up-scale such innovations are lacking”.

If innovation can be delivered at scale in the UK, it could serve at least two purposes. First, innovative housing solutions could complement the UK’s largely service-based economy by providing flexible living and working arrangements, eco-friendly design and participatory/inclusive neighbourhoods (as in the US and increasingly in China) for a creative and flexible workforce. Second, technological innovations have the potential to address demand-supply imbalances by, for example, facilitating adaptability solutions so that homes are built that meet different needs at different stages in life; as well as addressing affordability challenges by, for example, reducing the costs of construction.

However, concrete evidence pertaining to innovative housing projects is yet to be collected and tested for the UK. This project will therefore focus on the development, financing and market operation of innovative housing supply projects in the UK. It will explore the rationale, feasibility and effect of bringing innovative solutions into the supply side of housing markets; and it will reflect on what incentives and support the public sector can provide to encourage further development. The work will include a thorough literature review to establish a comprehensive knowledge base of good practice and case studies to explore the key criteria for success. The latter might include, for example, the Paintworks in Bristol (an affordable live/work mixed development), LILAC Low Impact Living Affordable Community in Leeds (a Mutual Home Ownership Scheme) and Dundee Waterfront (Site 5, a Build to Rent development in partnership with the City Council). Questions include:

  • How did this project come into being?
  • How is the financing of these projects designed?
  • How does the market react to these innovative albeit untraditional housing projects?

You can expect the final report from this project at the end of 2018. If you’d like to learn more or to engage with the project team, please get in touch.

Dr Tian Miao is a Co-Investigator for the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, based at the University of Glasgow. 


Date: July 11, 2018 10:58 am


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