NHMF Study Tour 2012

In October 2012, 24 delegates, representing 12 UK social landlords, consultants, contractors, NHF and leaseholders made a visit to Rotterdam, Netherlands. There were several reasons for choosing Rotterdam. The financial model for social housing in the Netherlands is quite different from that of the UK. They have been exploring energy saving measures in both new build and retrofit for many years and have now moved to providing renewable energy solutions for substantial numbers of dwellings. In addition, given that so much of the Netherlands is below sea level, they have, unsurprisingly, developed a very good understanding of measures relating to flood risk.

Day one set out to describe the origins of social housing in the Netherlands and to establish a background to the schemes we were to visit the following day. It began with a boat tour of the city and dockland area to understand the history and culture of Rotterdam. The commentary provided a range of useful facts about the port area and there were some interesting historic buildings and ships berthed in the port. Attention was particularly caught by a redundant cruise ship, the SS Rotterdam, which had been converted into a commercial conference centre by a housing provider, as a new source of revenue.

In the afternoon the group received presentations from three speakers. Prof Marja Elsinga, who is Head of Housing Systems Research programme, at Delft University gave an informative talk on the history and development of social housing in the Netherlands, setting it in the context of social housing in the rest of Europe. Prof Elsinga has kindly contributed an article to the NHMF Bulletin 2013 (see page 23). She has a particular interest in the role of housing associations in urban renewal and the future of social housing in Europe.

Dr Ad Straub, who is a Senior Researcher, at Delft University of Technology discussed how Dutch housing associations are tackling energy efficiency and other climate change issues in their existing stock. Dr Straub is the faculty leader for the innovation of building and maintenance processes. His research focuses on the methods and instruments required for the technical management, energy saving, performance-concept in refurbishment and maintenance, life cycle costing, project management and supply chain management.

David Miller, Rand Associates, presented the new NHMF Retrofit Guidance publication which aims to provide industry guidance on measures to reduce CO2 emissions associated with housing stock. The guide includes case studies where new technologies have been used to demonstrate the pros and cons of different approaches. It also discusses funding options. The purpose of the guide is to disseminate knowledge and speed up the learning process by sharing practical experience.

Day two included three visits: The Hague Julianachurch, TV Den Haag with a presentation by Eric Muller, Director Aardwarmte Den Haag. This innovative scheme, a first for the Netherlands, began in 2008 with the aim of supplying hot water to 4000 houses thereby saving 5000 tonnes of CO2 a year through a massive ground source heat pump. The scheme depended on the existence of three contributing factors in the same location: the drilling expertise, the distribution system of pipes and houses in compact blocks.

Technically complicated, the scheme relies on expert information about the substrata 2000 metres below ground and the likely length of time the water will last. Additionally, the finance needed for the housing associations to build the houses, and the contractual arrangements to deliver the heating, involved a financial risk in the scheme.

The head of the deep bore well sits inside a large red church like building supported by a 38 metre high boring pile. Two pipes, 1.5 metres apart, are driven 1.2 and 1.8 kilometres into the ground producing water at 74 degrees which meets 80% of the local demand. The life expectancy of the project is 40 years.

The ground conditions in the region and the Netherlands in general, allow for this type of scheme where it would clearly be difficult in the UK. Additionally, funding for housing associations in the UK for the provision of new homes is difficult to come by and it is hard to see how this scheme could be mirrored here given the current economic climate.

Visit to the project in the neighbourhood of Transvaal. The multi ethnic suburb of Transvaal is not a rich neighbourhood, with 32.8% of its residents recorded as having a minimum income, twice the rate that applies to the entire city of Den Haag. The area has suffered from inconsistent planning, with a series of demolitions and new build schemes dating from 1990s continuing through until 2006. Current initiatives focus on rebuilding communities and retrofitting to reduce energy costs for residents.

Havensteder the Earth Thermal Plant, Rozenburcht, thermal storage project which was explained by Koen Hellebrand, IF Technology

After the visits, the day ended with three presentations: the first on the financial aspects of a thermal storage project in Capelle aan den Ijssel by Floris Ledder, Havenstader, and two presentations from NHMF representatives.

NHMF Presentation Private Bonds, Andrew Newberry, Director of Finance, The Radian Group NHMF Presentation Right to buy, Right to acquire by Declan Hickey, Head of Asset Management, Muir Group.

The Dutch hosts had requested these topics because from 1st January 2014, according to specific European rules for Dutch housing corporations, they will have to create an administrative split between their commercial and a non-commercial divisions. They are therefore researching alternative models of commercial financing for their business.

Overall this was a relatively short, low cost trip which delivered value in terms of the benefits to participants in three ways: a great deal was learnt about managing financial risk, about large scale geothermal projects, and the context of social housing in Europe; delegates enjoyed meeting their peers and new contacts made in the Netherlands; we returned with new ideas and information to share at work.

Previous study tours

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