UK Housing is not fit for the future.

The Assumption

There is a famous saying “Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ass of you and me.” Today there seems to be an assumption that the near future will look the same as the recent past. Electric vehicles will simply replace petrol and diesel ones and life will carry on as before. It is an assumption that is about to make an ass out of all of us. If nothing else the last 15 months of living with Covid-19 has shown us how quickly things can change when it’s necessary.

Current UK housing assumes car ownership. Today to own or occupy a house you need to own or have access to a car. This is especially true as our ever-spreading sprawling housing estates move us ever more distant from the facilities we need for everyday life. This is an assumption that does not stand up to examination because three things are now driving change that will see car ownership plummet and with it the desirability of estate and rural living.

What will drive this change?

Ageing Population

The Office of National Statistics estimates that over the next 50 years another 12.5m people will be over 65. This will reduce the number of drivers.

UK housing is simply not suitable to grow old in. The UK has some of the smallest homes in the world. There is no room to fall or live with a wheelchair. As more boomers consider downsizing they will come to the conclusion that the new houses on offer isn’t a viable option for an ageing population. Consider how that small compact en-suite becomes a death trap as you move into old age or become in-firmed. The next time you sit on the toilet ask yourself “if you collapsed could someone get into to help you?”. Could a carer help you? The answer is invariably No. Inward opening doors will kill you. Check out if installing a stair lift is a viable option to delay your incarceration in the prison of your children’s choice.

Climate Change

Decarbonisation of the economy will reduce car ownership by

The end of new petrol and diesel cars (2030) will see demand for fuel decline. This decline will cause the cost of fuel to go up as refining of hydrocarbons needs volume to be profitable. Availability will go down as multiple fuel stations have insufficient throughput to survive; many are already more convenience store than petrol station. It will simple become too expensive to run the last traditional car that will probably have all but disappeared from our roads by 2045. The average lifespan of a UK car is 15 years.

We have all seen that new EV’s aren’t cheap. The battery is the expensive bit and at present lasts about 10 years. Today a ten  or even a fifteen year old car provides an economic and viable transport option for many people. In the future that affordable option will not exist as the cost of replacing the EV’s battery is almost the same as a new car. Low-income households running multiple older cars will simple not be able to afford to rely on the continuing availability of a steady stream of affordable used cars. Transport poverty will now drive the choice of homes we buy.  

AI technologies

In the coming decade(s) AI technologies will take many of the jobs of those of working age. Autonomous trucks don’t just replace drivers but reduce the number of trucks by around 40% as they will now run 24 a day and not on the drivers legal hours. These trucks don’t need truck stops for food and rest. All those support jobs will go. Similar job loses can be expected in the legal, medical and construction industries. The resulting drop in household and UKPLC incomes as well as fewer commuters as people increasingly work from home we will see car ownership and the number of new cars decline significantly.

Self-driving AI cars that can be rented by the hour will provide a halfway house between  car and no car. Call the car and it will turn up and take you to your destination. It’s a Pay as you Go solution and when compared to the annual cost of around £5k to run a small car you can do a lot of trips for £5K. Car ownership will plummet

Conclusion

There is no doubt that climate change, demographics and technology will bring to an end the traditional British housing estate not because people won’t want them. As a viable living space they will simply be increasingly socially and economically unaffordable.

Tipping Point

There is a tipping point coming where multiple elements of our society will find themselves living in the wrong place, the wrong house and without accessible affordable transport. Too far from a bus route. Too old to drive and personal cars too expensive with the limited disposable income we will be left with few uncomfortable options;

Own the sort of EV’s that dominates China, a car little bigger than a large mobility scooter.

Electric vechicle
yellow Smart car

Live in increasing isolation where leaving the house becomes an increasing rare treat. Only Amazon and your food delivery company will know you are alive. You house will have become unsalable as all those groups with transport poverty realise that your private house is just not worth it.

Or find a solution

The Solution

The UK is addicted to low rise housing and has demonised apartments whist accepting ever smaller houses. It’s no different than chocolate bars where the price remains constant but the product continues to get smaller. Admitting the situation is the first stage of recovery to any addiction. Shrinking houses have barely improved in 40 years. In comparison simply look at a 40 year old car and today’s offer from a car manufacturer! The difference is stark, not so UK housing.

Recognising the inadequacy of the UK housing offer and understanding the new drivers is the first stage of delivering the change needed to meet the challenges we face.

Affordability

Affordability will no longer be just about the cost of the house and most other costs being equal but the cost of living at your address will be impacted by transport costs. We will find that the proximity to a fixed bus route, safe cycleway or simply being within walking distance of frequent destinations that negates the need for a car becomes necessary becomes the key selection criteria.

People need to retain more of their disposable income. Increasing disposal income will improve our desperate high streets and let us lead better lives.

Energy costs.

Houses compared to apartments and flats are inefficient energy wise.

Size

UK housing is too small for an anyone other than the smallest household unit. We need to increase the size of apartment and balconies where the benefits of single level living can allow people to live safely and independently longer.

Location

We need to eliminate the assumption that home owners are also car owners.  We need to be with a mile or so from towns and shops. The ability to walk, cycle or indeed use a mobility scooter offers the least cost solution.

Its now time to stop building out and start building up. It doesn’t have to be sky scraper but it does need

1) a lift to allow the elderly and young families with young children to use the upper floors

2) a large balcony’s where its possible to sit , grow plants and entertain.

3) to be decent size where a couple who use wheel chairs can function with dignity.

UK Construction; the coming change is not what people imagine

The UK Government initiatives through the Construction Industries Training Board (CITB) and the construction industry in general continues to think in terms of migrating people’s skills.

What has been apparent for a long time is that with the UK’s  an ageing population and the crutch of our cheap overseas labour being removed the time is right for the wholesale removal of people from the construction process.  Companies like Laing O’Rourke are making the investment, but the rest of the UK construction industry seems oblivious to the tsunami of change about to hit Europe.

China with its ageing workforce is already making huge strides with true OSM and it won’t be long before we see Chinese companies bringing that technology to the UK and the EU. With automated factories and sites running 24 hrs day they will slash delivery times and cost. Soon to be legalised automated driving systems means even the delivery trucks won’t need drivers or be constrained by driving hours.

If the Chinese dont drive OSM the cost of second hand manufacturing robots will. A used robot usually seen in a car factory can now be bought for £10-15k (1/3 of the annual employment cost of a semi-skilled operative) and with 60,000 hours time left in the machine that is less than 25P per hour plus operating cost. It won’t be long before the change in our process is driven from the bottom up.

A look at this advert tells you what you need to know

http://www.globalrobots.com/product.aspx?product=23064

In many ways UK construction stands on the edge of a new industrial revolution with the cost of automating construction dropping and entry levels cost being within reach of small companies and not just the largest the conditions to disrupt UK construction is well timed. It will soon be possible to create low cost production lines using second equipment manufacturing small construction elements for an investment of less than the cost of a UK house.

The CITB initiatives looks less like progress and more like King Canute. UK construction faces with the exception of maintenance being wiped out as an industry unless it changes rapidly.

Houses on Flood Plains

Building on flood plains is not seen as a good idea but  that is only the case when you want to build the same style of house that we build everywhere and is already unsuited to our changing climate and increased recurrence of flooding. Governments   have become quite irrational  basis for restricting development on floodplains especially when  fluvial flooding is considered in the same way as one caused by a failure of our tidal flood defences.

Somerset and similar low lying areas are not flood plains in the normal way, there is a enough room to accommodate the odd flood providing our houses are designed for that environment. There is nothing to stop development on land such as the Somerset Levels , the Fens and other low lying areas. We just need the right sort of housing.

Existing  Government legislation uses a very blunt definition to restrict development but it really depends on the flood plain and what your living in which brings to the word vernacular. A misused word used by developers to continue  building a product that suits their cashflow, that planners use because its safe and objectors use because apart from the great crested newt they have reasons to object and would rather put up with more of the same. We have a self fulfilling prophecy.

We cannot continue building wholly inappropriate housing just because it’s what we have become used to, our housing needs to adapt to our weather will be more extreme and flooding a regular occurrence.  Flooding that  in coastal areas is likely to be largely salt water rather than the largely benign floods  caused by precipitation.

Its not good to have  ground floors we need to put our apartments and gardens above the garages to be  safe. This also means that the miserable balconies  that have been provided to date need to increased to a size  that is equivalent to the equally miserable gardens now considered acceptable. The difference between the two is no longer significant.

Big balconies

really useful balcony

Big Garages

a look through the future