Written evidence from Stonewater
Stonewater is a leading social housing provider, with a mission to deliver good quality, affordable homes to people who need them most. We manage around 33,600 homes in England for over 75,000 customers, including affordable properties for general rent, shared ownership and sale, alongside specialist accommodation such as retirement and supported living schemes for older and vulnerable people, domestic abuse refuges, a dedicated LGBTQ+ Safe Space, and young people’s foyers.
Our significant and progressive house-building programme aims to build a minimum of 1,500 new homes a year from 2022/23 and we have a good pipeline of development to achieve this, driven by our vision of everyone having the opportunity to have a place that they can call home. We plough our surplus into building new homes, improving our existing housing stock and investing in customer services.
We are also the largest management partner for Legal & General Affordable Homes, supporting the organisation in delivering its ambitious development plan of building 3,000 homes by 2022, by leading on Legal & General’s housing operations across England.
Stonewater recognise that the way they work matters. They are committed to providing homes that are energy efficient and are working towards Government’s targets for carbon neutrality. They have been championing the need for long-term funding and solutions to allow the sector to decarbonise with confidence, including commissioning new research by the IPPR. In recognition of their work in this area, Stonewater have been awarded a Silver ‘SHIFT’ rating, an independent assessment and accreditation scheme that measures organisations against challenging environmental targets.
For more information, visit our website at www.stonewater.org.
Stonewater welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Environmental Audit Committee’s inquiry into Sustainability of the Built Environment.
This document sets out Stonewater’s response to the issues raised by the Committee. We would be delighted to set these responses out in more detail in an oral evidence session.
What role can the planning system, permitted development and building regulations play in delivering a sustainable built environment? How can these policies incentivise developers to use low carbon materials and sustainable design?
Building regulations could be updated to include a requirement to calculate the embodied carbon or carbon emissions created by each development. However, there would also be further legislation required to ensure manufacturers of materials and products were able to provide accurate information on the embodied carbon within their products, otherwise this would not be possible.
This could create further complications as many materials are imported, therefore manufacturers may not be bound by the same legislation, creating an unlevel playing field and ultimately undermining the intention of the legislation.
Should the embodied carbon impact of alternative building materials take into account the carbon cost of manufacture and delivery to site, enabling customers to assess the relative impact of imported versus domestically sourced materials?
Yes, Stonewater believes that the whole lifecycle of both a material and a building should be taken into account.
This would encourage sourcing of locally made products and may encourage manufacturers to invest within the UK, which would have the knock-on benefit of reducing the carbon emissions created through transportation. Using more products that are manufactured in the UK within the construction industry will simplify the process of calculating embodied carbon within buildings.
How well is green infrastructure being incorporated into building design and developments to achieve climate resilience and other benefits?
Stonewater has committed to designing all future ‘land and build’ housing schemes (homes that Stonewater develops ourselves, rather than purchasing through Section 106 agreements) without the use of gas for heating and cooking. In most instances, we are utilising heat pump technology and have a number of live sites where we are trialling different approaches. This includes the use of ground-source heat pumps combined with photovoltaic thermal (PVT) panels to supply renewable electricity and heat to the properties.
However, Stonewater also delivers new homes through Section 106 agreements with other developers. In these instances most developers are still building to current building regulations standards and Stonewater has less of an influence on the heating and electricity systems that are used. Whilst Stonewater does request the use of low carbon heating systems and renewable technologies in these homes, the design of properties does not always allow for this.
It is also a concern that within 10 years, the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK. There is currently very little charging infrastructure being installed on new developments and this should be made a requirement within building regulations, and a solution needs to be found quickly to ensuring charging capability for developments that do not provide private parking for each property.
However, there is also further investment required to the electricity distribution network to create the capacity for technologies such as heat pumps and electric vehicle charging, otherwise any progress made on this will be wasted. For example, Stonewater has had experiences of wanting to design a scheme to use heat pumps but doing so would require the installation of a new substation at Stonewater’s cost, which would make the scheme financially unviable.
What can the Government do to incentivise more repair, maintenance and retrofit of existing buildings?
For a large-scale retrofit of the UK’s housing stock, especially in the social housing sector, there needs to be a significant long-term funding commitment from the Government to allow the supply chain to invest and scale up with confidence. The Government has set an ambitious target, for all homes to meet a minimum of EPC band C standard by 2030 for fuel poor households, but currently only 56% of social housing stock and 33% of private rented stock reach that standard. It was estimated by Savills in late-2020 that it will cost approximately £25,000 to retrofit each social home, meaning that it would cost about £4.3 billion every year for the next 25 years to bring all social homes up to standard. However, the Government has committed only £3.8 billion over the next decade as part of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund.
Without accelerated intervention and further investment from the government, the UK will miss the 2030 deadline by some decades.
Last July, Stonewater funded a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR), All Hands to the Pump, which showed that a national retrofitting programme could create up to 275,000 jobs in England by 2035, and 325,000 jobs in the UK. By investing in a long-term plan for decarbonisation the Government will be able to stimulate and give confidence to the supply chain, create jobs, tackle fuel poverty, and drive towards net zero.
This commitment will make retrofit easier to undertake for all tenures and is more likely to encourage a steady flow of retrofit, rather than the peaks and troughs in demand that are created by short term funding. This was a contributing factor to the lack of uptake of Green Homes Grant funding.
Government should publish clear targets and a pathway for decarbonisation as soon as possible, allowing social housing providers to plan their investment and deliver retrofit most efficiently. Clear long-term targets will also have an impact on the private sector as, when buying properties, homeowners may begin to consider future investment in retrofit which will affect property prices. This will then provide incentive for existing homeowners to invest.
Furthermore, other initiatives that create more of a link between energy efficiency and property prices could be investigated, such as stamp duty reductions for homes that are more efficient or for buyers that improve the EPC rating of their home within 12 months of purchase.