The challenges of future housing

Sometimes when we talk about housing, we get very caught up in the technicalities, the regulations, planning and specifics, that we forget that we’re really talking about is home.

That place that we all look forward to going back to, no matter how hard our days have been. The place we share with our families, a place we look for warmth, shelter, for relaxation, where we can be ourselves.

When talking about what’s important for housing for the future, it’s vital that we are putting that human aspect back at the heart of these houses. Perhaps that’s why things like the Danish concept of Hygge is currently in vogue.

People recognise that our houses are places that are the cornerstone of our well-being. The National Assembly is currently consulting on low-carbon housing. Whilst it’s positive that they’re moving into this space, not one of their nine terms of reference mention community cohesion, quality of the space, and whether these homes are comfortable places to live in.

Whilst low-carbon housing is essential for developers to be embedding, we also have to remember that these are housing estates, not solar farms. It is essential that when we are thinking of houses of the future, all seven of the well-being goals are looked at in their entirety.

Think about your own houses. In what year, was your house built? When your house was planned, what type of family was it designed, does it fit with your own and families lives? Chances are, your home was probably built for a nuclear family, with nine-to-five jobs, dog, and at least one privately owned car.

Very rarely do the types of houses we build provide for more specialised needs; for our growing elderly population who require extra support; or for the growing number of single person homes. The actual typology of our houses has barely changed. With the predictions for automated cars and technology look set to be the next big advance for us, will our modes of transport yet again be the great changer when it comes to the makeup of our houses?

And whilst predictions of smart-homes that make our lives easier seem to suggest that smart housing isn’t that far away — why are we so far behind here in Wales? Why are we with the lowest number of houses built post-2000 and only 45% of local authority dwellings meet the Welsh Housing Quality Standard for 2016?

Here in Wales, our residential energy consumption accounts for just over 27% of all energy consumed, and with Wales’ population projected to increase by 5% over the next 20 years, this demand is only set to increase.

A higher percentage of our population is going to be made of older people: in 20 years’ time, around a quarter of all people over Wales will be over 65. Older people are more vulnerable to fuel poverty, poorer health conditions and problems associated with excessive cold and damp than other generations, and housing stock for older people is not currently supporting these needs.

It seems that despite some good work being done within the housing sector, when it comes to housing developments, we are still far from where we need to be in terms of planning for future generations; for 15 years, 25 years, 100 years’ time. That is why we have identified housing as one of our priority areas for action when it comes to catalysing progress towards Wales’ well-being goals.

These have been divided into two areas, creating the right infrastructure for future generations, including energy generation and use, transport planning, and housing stock; and better equipping people for the future such as skills, preventing adverse childhood experiences, and alternative models for improving health and well-being.

The Well-being of Future Generations Act places a legal duty on public bodies to apply the sustainable development principle, and use the five ways of working: involvement, collaboration, integration, prevention and planning for the long-term to bring about the Wales we want. By applying the five ways of working, public bodies here in Wales, working collaboratively with the housing sector stand a good chance of improving the seven well-being goals.

There is a pressing need for change in our approach to housing, so that we build and adapt our housing stock to address both persistent and ongoing needs; to create more resilience whilst mitigating our climate impacts, eradicate fuel poverty and associated health problems exacerbated by poor quality housing, whilst addressing our shortage of affordable housing.

There are several opportunities for us to be exploring; the Welsh Government target of delivering 20,000 affordable homes during the life of this assembly, the £20m innovative housing fund and our national development framework.

There are opportunities to learn lessons from the past and from each other, to work towards housing that is fit for the future.

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