With the residential sector playing such a crucial role in the UK, tackling housing challenges and ensuring a supply of affordable, quality housing stock remains a major priority for the UK government and all those involved in the sector.
The Chartered Institute of Housing’s annual conference provided an excellent platform for the industry to come together, debate key topics, and explore solutions.
In its second year back in person post-pandemic, the conference was well attended and featured keynote speeches from both the Conservative Housing Minister and the Labour Shadow Secretary of State for levelling up, housing and communities. Over the course of three days, numerous forums, round tables, and panels fostered great discussions.
Key conference take aways
From governance and risk, to ensuring that the resident voice is front and central, to the cost-of-living crisis and building safety there were a myriad of topics considered at this year’s event. However, two standout themes emerged for the RLB team related to the built environment: the pivot towards repairing and replacing existing homes and the increasing importance of data.
Pivot to repair and replace
During the course of the conference the Social Housing (Regulations) Bill was passed and is now awaiting Royal Assent. This was introduced after the shocking death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak who died in Rochdale from a respiratory condition caused by exposure to mould in his social housing flat. The Bill includes ‘Awaab’s Law’ that will force social landlords to fix health hazards such as damp and mould within strict time limits.
The tragedy of Awaab’s death and its consequences were rightly front of mind for many. It’s certainly a large part of the reason we are seeing investment moving from new building programmes to repair and replace programmes. Ensuring compliance with legislation combined with a lack of funding and ongoing cost pressures is an ongoing challenge.
The pivot towards repair and replace is also being driven by the pressing need to improve energy efficiency in existing housing stock with targets looming large such as the need for all homes to meet EPC C standards by 2050. The challenge around decarbonising the estate and solutions needed to achieve this was central to many of the really good discussions we had. Access to external funding remains limited so hard decisions are being made with priority rightly being given to building safety, energy efficiency, and ensuring decent and safe existing homes for residents.
The flip side to this are the limitations or cutbacks in the construction of new homes. This will potentially exacerbate the existing shortage of 3 to 5 million homes, which implies a need for innovative solutions to bridge the housing gap.
The rising importance of data
Another prominent theme throughout the conference was the rising importance of data. Beyond the legislative requirements of data collection and storage, there is a growing recognition of the benefits and innovations that a cohesive approach to data can foster. The power of good data management and analysis is fundamental to unlocking many challenges in the sector and something that at RLB we are passionate about. We’ve seen a big shift in housing providers having a data strategy and recognising the intelligence it brings for the long term.
Discussions at the conference highlighted how innovative data analysis can support areas like delivering net zero. A number of organisations demonstrated how analysing property data usage combined with resident engagement can inform the adoption of green technologies that residents are likely to embrace, saving costs and building better relationships.
Digital innovations and data analysis are also driving better experiences and services for residents, particularly in sectors such as later living, social care, and health services. The advances that are being made through digital investment to enable more joined up support of vulnerable individuals through technology developments such as utilising smart watch technology was really inspiring to see.
Innovations are rapidly emerging, and with the potential of AI in this field, practical solutions based on digital and data analysis will likely be trialled by the time the conference reconvenes next year.
The next 12 months will be an interesting time for the housing sector. There was a real sense at this year’s conference that people are fully aware of the challenges ahead whether that be Building Safety Act compliance to decarbonisation, from digital and data management to competency standards. However, while not easy, there is a genuine recognition of the necessary steps and a drive to seek solutions – something we will continue to strive to support our clients and the industry achieve in the next year and beyond.