Working for better homes

Of all the conferences I speak at, and there are a lot, one of my favourite things about speaking to the NHMF Conference is that it is the best opportunity I have to get a clear view of what is actually being delivered by asset managers across the country. So instead of just talking at the audience, I decided to ask a few questions. The answers to which were instructive:
• Do you think that you have sufficient engagement with development colleagues? No
• Will the newer technologies for energy efficiency renewables be easy to maintain? No
• Do you think that your board and executive team have a clear enough understanding of the future costs of what they are building? No

To which my response is, why not? This seemingly perennial disconnect between development and asset management never ceases to amaze me. Who better to look at the long term implications of any development proposal than the people who will be responsible (and accountable) for maintaining these properties in the future? Who better to assess the risks and benefits of installing new technology than the people who have suffered through the frustrations of the old technologies?

And yet, it can’t stop there. We all know that the bill for maintaining properties is huge. That sometimes the best thing to do is knock down an existing, inefficient and unlovely building and begin again. To create something that not only meets the needs of today’s residents, but future residents as well. However, the current Government emphasis on refurbishment rather than demolition in the 2015-18 HCA Affordable Homes programme means that this will be more difficult to achieve as it could force people to refurbish inappropriate properties.

There is, quite rightly, a huge amount of government emphasis on housing supply and the need to build more homes. But this sector, more than any other, knows the dire implications of not building homes to the right standards. Indeed, we know more than any other the implications of building homes to ill thought through standards which emphasise a technological solution without an understanding of how this will be implemented by residents. The issues raised by many of our members regarding NIBE boilers were a case in point.

However, it is important that the setting of standards and inevitable cost consciousness doesn’t stifle the innovation and adoption of new technologies that our sector has proved so good at. So how do we achieve the balance between value for money and innovation? It is easy to stick with what you know; to maintain homes on a ‘like for like’ basis. But that means we will just keep on producing more of the same which won’t deliver the low energy consumption that is so important and won’t deliver the step change in carbon reduction that the Government has pledged, and that to be frank the planet needs.

You will be aware that the Government has recently published its response to the Housing Standards Review consultation. In working with Government on this review the Federation drew heavily on our members, both colleagues working in development and asset management, to paint a realistic picture of the implications that standards have, and will have, on development and ongoing running costs, both for tenants and housing providers. This is an excellent example of how we can work together – your expertise and experience feeding directly into Government policy making. This is a model that we want to develop further.

The Federation wants to work more closely with the NHMF and its members to be able to make sure that your voices are heard within the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster; that the new building regulations which will be drafted will result in new homes which are cheaper to run for tenants and asset managers. Homes that are truly fit for the 21st century, and possible beyond.

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			David Orr

This article first appeared in the 2014 bulletin publication.
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