Making a long-term judgement

Andrew Minson discusses the importance not only of building new houses, but of the very materials of which they are constructed

In April, the Labour Party published an interesting green paper which seeks to address the challenges affecting the UK housing market. While it is not the ultimate panacea for current housing problems or addressing the pressing need for more new builds, it offers a number of compelling ideas.

Housing for the many (01/04/18; Labour Party) makes a number of important points which seek to reach the heart of the housing crisis, while highlighting a number of potential solutions. The point which resonates most, and one which is echoed in a recent property survey we conducted with a national sample (2000 adults) of the UK public, is the need to ensure that the nation has access to ‘safe, secure and decent homes’.

This in itself poses a couple of questions: what exactly constitutes this need in the consumer’s mind and how does the choice of construction material deliver these benefits? This article seeks to get to the core of these issues.

When we crunched the numbers from our poll and compiled them into our own report: A Dream Home: An Exploration of Aspiration, we found that the requirements were manifold.

At the heart of the home
When asked to choose multiple attributes from a large list, energy efficiency (93 per cent), premium sound insulation (92 per cent), robust construction (92 per cent) low insurance premiums (89 per cent) and ease of modification (72 per cent) scored highly.

Home buyers also need to see value for money: cost of energy bills (49 per cent), cost of purchase (46 per cent), cost of running (48 per cent), lifespan of the home (34 per cent) and durability (32 per cent) are all significant concerns. Additionally, people expect their residences to be safe. This includes high levels of fire resistance (94 per cent) and flood resilience (87 per cent).

Furthermore, respondents required the assurance that an abode is protected from negative human impacts such as bad neighbours and excessive noise (66 per cent). As such, it is unsurprising that peace and quiet was considered an important factor by 91 per cent of people.

Material values
To put this into context, we need to consider the above sentiments alongside the current government’s commitment to ensuring a minimum of 300,000 new homes per year by 2024. In order to offer homes that deliver these qualities, we must ensure the use of robust and durable materials which will last well into the next century if total housing stock is to increase in the long term.

While people may not consciously choose a home based on its structure, the attributes people deem most important are directly affected by the choice of construction materials. Buyers want their investment to retain its value, renters want somewhere which balances comfort and cost.

It is vital not to become complacent and take for granted the essentials (fire resilience, robustness and longevity) of the materials we have traditionally used when looking to the nation’s housebuilding needs.

When asked which material delivered both resilience and comfort, tellingly, a high proportion of people highlighted both the short-term and the long-term value of masonry. The majority felt these materials are of the highest standard (88 per cent) and the most flexible when it comes to extensions or modifications (71 per cent). A high proportion of people also singled out masonry’s fire resistant qualities (71 per cent), energy efficiency (62 per cent) and thermal performance (88 per cent).

Less than one per cent consider prefabricated, modular homes to be built from the most robust building material and only three per cent think timber is a strong solution, compared to 89 per cent who feel masonry offers the most robust homes.

The fact is that masonry is the primary building material in over 80 per cent of UK new build housing and provides both good value and energy efficient solution. The masonry industry has already increased production to meet current demand, and is well placed to further increase capacity to deliver the government’s targets. This should inspire much needed confidence that there is the real potential to offer the public quality homes, at affordable prices, to meet current and future demand.

At the crossroads
The new secretary of state for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, has the opportunity to deliver high quality, cost-effective homes, which combine both durability and longevity. As you will expect, we are a vocal supporter of the government’s pledged housebuilding policy; however, the country’s need for long term fit-for-purpose homes must not be forgotten in the dash to increase numbers.

Our policy makers must take a holistic, considered approach if they want to be successful in delivering such a long-term solution. One key factor for this will be choosing local, robust, sustainable materials to deliver quality homes for the British public, such as masonry. That’s not all, it’s also the responsibility of architects, engineers, developers (and the whole project team) to use materials which ensure that the form of construction delivers the qualities which people value most.

The great reforming politician Nye Bevan once said: “We shall be judged in a year or two by the number of houses we build, but in ten years’ time we will be judged on the type of houses we build.” Wise words which endure, and ones which must be at the front of the construction industry and policymakers’ minds when they approach current and future housebuilding initiatives.

Andrew Minson is executive director of Modern Masonry, the representative body of the UK masonry industry. Modern Masonry is affiliated to British Precast, and provides guidance on design of masonry and furnishes government and influencing organisations with the evidence of how masonry can contribute to a sustainable built environment. Founding association funders of MMA are Aircrete Product Association, Brick Development Association, Concrete Block Association and Mortar Industry Alliance.
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