A social housing revolution positioning the geospatial profession firmly in the driving seat

Finding somewhere to live is clearly a massive problem up and down the country, specifically in major cities where, for an increasing number of people, homes are either unaffordable or simply impossible to secure. In post-referendum political terms, May understands how this issue, and its causal links to immigration, has risen dramatically as a voter concern.

We need a social housing revolution. For professionals working in the built environment – particularly in the emerging technology-driven geospatial discipline – this presents a huge opportunity to apply new thinking to the planning, design and construction of UK housing and so change the way this growing social crisis is tackled.

The root cause of the housing problem stems from decades of failure to build enough new homes to accommodate the nation’s growing population. Since the post-war 1950s boom, which saw over 300,000 new homes built each year, the number has dropped dramatically to sit at just under 150,000 last year.

And many of those houses built are not designed for first time or low income buyers or, indeed, to satisfy the demands of the growing rental market. Something has to change – we need industrial revolution.

A new housing government White Paper is expected by the end of the month and should build November’s autumn statement announcement for increased capital funding for housebuilding. So is this finally progress towards the meeting the government’s commitment to build one million new homes by 2020?

Well perhaps. But what is also abundantly clear is that the current UK housing model is broken. Tackling the problem with our conventional business models will not work. With responsibility for house building effectively abdicated to the private sector, maximising shareholder return has, for decades, stood above social affordability.

Hence the need for revolution. A new model is required, one based on public investment and devolved local authority engagement. As most industry and economic commentators agree, establishing a new affordable and sustainable rental market is central to making this a reality, and accommodating the so-called Generation Rent.

The concept of build-to-rent, a renaissance of the former Council housing model, is already back as finance houses spot the long-term investment benefits of assets that provide homes to the masses and a predictable revenue stream over decades.

A new industrial revolution of factory built construction is vital to power this change. Only with it will we speed delivery, improve quality and, importantly, mitigate to growing shortages of traditional house building skills such as bricklaying, plastering and roofing.

And alongside investment to establish this new generation of prefabricated housing factories across the UK, this revolution will require a fundamental shift across the industry to truly embrace digital technology and 3D information modelling throughout the deliver process, from planning through to maintenance.

Which means the geospatial profession will be firmly in the driving seat. Armed with new skills and new tools, the challenge and opportunity for the sector will be to turn the current cottage industry into fully fledged modern manufacturing sector.

It is a future that will see sites quickly, accurately – remotely – surveyed with information then instantly available to virtually design houses bespoke to every customer’s need. It will see factory built houses delivered right-first-time, on time and to budget and with new levels of quality and performance. It will see smart technology embedded to ensure that the assets are monitored, managed and maintained methodically and were possible automatically.

Of course, government must play its part to break down the planning log jams and make it possible for local authorities to take a proper role in this revolution. The recent announcement for 14 new garden village sites and 48,000 homes are a great start- a Housing White Paper that underpins this new devolved deal for housing will continue the change.

But the new industrial revolution that will power this required change must come from within the construction sector. For geospatial engineers it is an opportunity to grasp.


This article was written by independent editorial expert and journalist Antony Oliver, who regularly contributes industry content for GEObuzz. Find Antony on Twitter @_Antonyoliver_

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