The importance of good-quality, affordable and well-insulated homes has never been more hotly debated, for residents of affordable housing as well as private owners. When Countryside is in discussion with its partners about their ambitions for estate regeneration, they will say warm, affordable homes are a top priority.

Kate Ives

Kate Ives

Councils whose land we develop know that residents without warm homes will experience greater ill health and lower productivity at work, and that their children will find it harder to learn. A 360-degree approach to fuel poverty is critical because we can’t solve inequality and deprivation without warm, affordable homes.

The sharp rise in energy heating bills is being felt across the country and even with the new energy price cap, the cost of heating a home is forecast to double. Coupled with stalled wage inflation and the overall rise in living costs, everyone’s feeling the pinch.

Residents’ ability to pay their rent or mortgage is important for the health of the property development sector and something we should all be worried about. It’s in all our interests to find solutions for affordable heating.

We can’t solve inequality and deprivation without warm, affordable homes

Countryside’s ambition is to build homes with high levels of building-fabric efficiency, making them significantly more effective at staying warm, as we move towards building net zero homes by 2030. Every year, we will be building more efficient homes to help residents reduce heating bills. For a resident of a 1960s home on a housing estate, their bills will be halved by moving into a new Countryside home built today.

We’re delivering more than 12,000 homes across London and we know that residential estate renewal can sometimes take more than a decade to complete. So, some residents might have to weather the heat crisis for longer than others while waiting for their new home to be built in a programme of building and rehousing.

Where possible, we strive to increase the quantity of affordable homes and homes for market rent to provide good-quality, warm homes for those who cannot yet afford to buy, and to accelerate the pace of development. Working with like-minded partners to incorporate quality appliances and good home user training, together we can work towards affordability and certainty of household outgoings.

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The proportion of homes we build for local residents makes it critical for us to ensure that in our pathway to net zero, we must support a fair and just transition for everyone. For example, we sign up our developments with communal systems to the Heat Trust to give our residents the best standards in communal heat supply. At a sector level, we’ve joined UKGBC to support just transition in the built environment and lobby for a just transition across the sector.

Supporting residents

We’re keen to help in other ways and are supporting the Housing Associations’ Charitable Trust (HACT) Energy Hardship Fund. Community Action on Fuel Poverty estimates that 4.5 million households are in fuel poverty in the UK. The HACT fund supports residents who can’t afford to heat their homes and in 2021 distributed £1m in energy vouchers to more than 16,000 resident households across the UK, using a network of more than 160 housing associations.

As an organisation committed to generating social value, we’re also rolling out a variety of financial management programmes via our partner HSBC to help households strengthen their budgeting capabilities. On our sites, we’re donating to local food and hygiene banks, and helping local residents find good jobs in the construction sector with the potential to improve their economic prospects.

It’s vital for the development industry to engage in the ‘eat or heat’ debate. It has an impact on our customers, as without customers we don’t have an industry. While the real crisis is in the wholesale cost of energy coupled with inflation pressures, we must all work together to make support for low-income households a priority, against a continuing backdrop of inflation and low wage growth.

Our ambition is to create places people love – and a just transition to places in which people can afford to live and live well. Good estate regeneration should support the fuel poverty crisis, but much more needs to be done to respond to the rise in wholesale energy costs.

Kate Ives is strategic growth director at Countryside Partnerships