A green housing boom is possible, says homelessness charity

The massive house-building programme required to match demand need not be at loggerheads with environmental sustainability, a charity campaigning on housing and homelessness issues has said.

With almost 100,000 households in temporary accommodation and 1.5m on housing registers England desperately needs new housing, according to housing and homelessness charity Shelter.

The number of households in England is expected to rise by almost 25% in the next 20 years, from 20.9m in 2003 to 25.7m in 2026, according to Government forecasts. This would imply 209,000 new homes each year – and there are already worries about concreting over the countryside and resource sufficiency in England even with the current amount of housing.

House-building brings pressure on resources, with concerns over water supply, the impact of sewerage systems, land availability and energy emissions from the new homes, Shelter acknowledges, but argues that the problems can be overcome by how and where homes are built.

In a paper on the environmental issues surrounding house-building launched a few days after the Stern Review (see related story), “Housing versus the environment: Can there be only one winner?“, the charity discusses the energy implications of a house-building boom as well as its implications for water and land use.

Homes produce 28% of the UK’s total carbon dioxide, and the proliferation of one-person households boosts the rise in emissions associated with new homes as living alone is the most climate-unfriendly option.

The destruction of greenbelts, pollution from sewerage, water availability and flooding are other potential consequences of housing boom that the charity acknowledges.

These problems can be solved by incorporating renewables, energy and water efficiency into buildings from the start, which should minimise environmental impact.

But eco-homes can cost 10% more to construct than ‘normal’ homes, while renewables still do not inspire enough public confidence.

“Consumers often lack reliable and easily accessible information that they can use in order to compare environmental performance,” Shelter says in the discussion paper.

The Government should educate the public, increase investment in sustainable infrastructure, set high eco-standards for all new homes and give householders incentives to invest in sustainable solutions, Shelter recommends.

Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter said: “There is overwhelming housing need in the UK. Rampant house price inflation is fuelling housing inequalities and almost 94,000 households are trapped in temporary accommodation.

“Shelter believes that providing more housing does not have to conflict with action to tackle climate change. We hope that this discussion document provides a useful vehicle for stimulating debate about how we can provide the housing that we need, while living up to our responsibilities to the planet.”

The discussion paper can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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