In the wake of last month’s Autumn Statement, where Philip Hammond pledged £2.3billion towards a Housing Infrastructure Fund to deliver infrastructure for up to 100,000 new homes in high demand areas – as well as £1.4bn towards the construction of affordable homes – it remains clear that there is a lack of good quality, affordable homes across the UK. This is particularly relevant to Surrey – an area of the UK with very high competition for housing due to its proximity to London, high living standards and global commercial links.
Whilst the demand for housing is increasing within the county, with no sign of it slowing down, instead of investing in the construction of new homes, perhaps policy should focus on the retrofitting of the current housing stock within Surrey as an alternative. Although there have been a lot of ‘new’ housing developments within the county over the past 20-30 years to compete with demand, the older housing stock arguably has been neglected by public policy and investment to some degree. Many of the properties built pre-1950 have been neglected over time, are of a poor standard in terms of both their comfort and energy/heat performance
I would argue that rather than invest public money into thousands of new homes, more should be put into improving the older housing stock we already have. Retrofitting existing properties would require less investment, for instance measures such as external solid wall insulation for non-cavity properties costing a minimum of roughly £8,000 to install. This would also allow for poorly performing low cost properties to be fit for purpose and meet the increasing demands for affordable housing within Surrey. Furthermore, buyers who invest in retrofitting their property may see a net increase in the value of their home following the installation of energy efficiency measures.
On top of these benefits, approaching retrofit over new builds also has wider positive implications to society and infrastructure. For example, improving the current housing stock would reduce the amount of congestion and traffic created if additional homes were built – something that is already a pressing issue that many Surrey residents have to deal with on a daily basis. Retrofitting properties will also help reduce the impact on health services from residents living in cold homes, particularly if they are vulnerable or have a long term illness exacerbated by the cold. Research has also shown that living in a warmer, more comfortable home – with lower energy and heating costs – can also improve people’s mental health, social mobility and educational attainment.
Whilst in the current climate of political uncertainty, it remains unknown whether public policy will favour retrofit over new builds in the near future. Organisations such as Action Surrey can help residents improve their home, reduce their energy bills and enhance their quality of living through the installation of energy efficiency measures. Maybe it’s time we all thought about retrofitting our homes for the future?
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