In Bristol and across the UK, we are facing a housing crisis, a climate crisis, an ecological emergency, as well as a construction skills shortage. But as Bristol Housing Festival, Project Director, Jez Sweetland explains, these challenges are a powerful opportunity to do things differently.
At the Bristol Housing Festival, we’re bringing together industry leaders, local governments, and Bristol residents to ensure that healthy and resilient communities are at the forefront of the conversation on housing. Some of the ways we’re doing this is through our Innovate UK funded project ‘Enabling Housing Innovation for Inclusive Growth,’ which we completed in September this year, our involvement with the global ‘Climate Smart Cities Challenge’ and our new ‘Workforce for the Future’ project.
The Enabling Housing Innovation for Inclusive Growth project, began in April 2020 and was delivered by a consortium of partners led by YTKO, Bristol Housing Festival, BRE and nine leading modular housing companies among others. It was an 18-month program working towards the delivery of a major piece of research, development and innovation in the use of modern methods of construction (MMC) and helped enable 425 homes to be built in Bristol (estimated GDV of circa £90million). Of the nine demonstrator sites that formed part of the project, three are underway, and two – Hope Rise and SNUG homes – are already complete with both having won awards (Hope Rise has won multiple awards and was featured at COP26 as one of 17 projects chosen by a global panel). We are working on post-occupancy evaluation of Hope Rise which will be available soon and have also completed a ‘lessons learnt’ report on this scheme.
Another outcome of the project is constructing modern methods (CMM). CMM is a digital tool to help housing commissioners interrogate the MMC market and procure the best solutions. It sits within a procurement solution, a dynamic purchasing system facilitated by the South West Procurement Alliance.
Recognising the importance of tackling the climate and ecological emergencies alongside the housing crisis, the Bristol Housing Festival in partnership with Bristol City Office and Bristol City Council, put in a bid earlier this year for Bristol to become a host city for the UN Habitat and NESTA Climate Smart Cities Challenge, and Bristol was selected as one of four cities to collaborate in the initiative. The aim of the challenge is to develop, test and scale cutting edge solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around a particular problem faced by the host city. Bristol chose to focus on newbuild, affordable housing and posed the challenge that while we already have the technology to make every newbuild in the UK low carbon, it is not currently viable for all stakeholders due to cost. We have therefore invited innovators to work on real sites building in new financial or development appraisal models to unlock affordable, low carbon housing.
We recognise that current models (focusing principally on repayment of capital) will become an increasing limitation in unlocking sites for affordable housing (let alone complex brownfield sites) which will be further constrained through higher labour and construction material costs and needing to deliver higher performing more sustainable affordable homes. In that context, we believe that we need to innovate wisely within the development appraisal process, to redefine value and unlock funding to deliver against intended outcomes. The challenge was officially launched on the 3 November at the World Expo in Dubai.
Finally, our ‘Workforce for the Future Unlocking MMC for SME’s project’ aims to help address the construction skills shortage. YTKO, in partnership with the Bristol Housing Festival and MOBIE, have secured a new training project to help support local construction employers to access new housing developments in the city. Backed by the West of England Combined Authority, via their Workforce for the Future initiative, the project will see hundreds of local trades given the skills and funding to explore offsite modular housing technologies and MMC.
Tackling multiple crises simultaneously requires a high level of collaboration and ‘out the box’ thinking. We recognise the importance of engaging a broad audience, including Bristol residents, in these conversations and to this end our annual Expo is a chance to celebrate good news and discuss pressing issues. We have learned that a lot of conversation currently (and quite rightly) centres around the climate crisis and ecological emergency, and while this is important, we must not lose the priority of social justice. The urgency of the climate emergency has moved public discourse into a polarised debate that risks ignoring the reality of multiple crises and focuses just on the one.
As we build back better, we must learn to hold the tensions of multiple crises, to fight to protect our climate and ecology while not forgetting the urgent and pressing need to provide safe, stable, and affordable homes for our city’s most vulnerable residents.
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