Demand for new housing is concentrating minds on pushing for further innovations – Prof Sean Smith

Professor Sean Smith, Director of Edinburgh Napier University's Institute for Sustainable Construction
Professor Sean Smith, Director of Edinburgh Napier University's Institute for Sustainable Construction
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Housing supply is rapidly becoming one of the major global challenges of this century.

According to the United Nations, the population of the planet is on a ‘medium growth’ trajectory to reach more than 11.2 billion by the year 2100 – a future increase over 80 years of 3.6 billion people.

The steep rise of 45 million per year will inevitably increase not only the demand for food, water and material requirements, but also, essentially, living space.

Average household sizes vary significantly between different continents and also by country. However, all countries are experiencing the need for smaller household sizes as people live longer, co-habit later or require workplace accommodation away from their normal home. The rise in one and two-person living has been significant in the UK and other developed countries.

Statistics published by the National Records of Scotland demonstrate the influence of changing demographics, with future household demand rising even faster than population growth. By 2039, population growth is forecast to be 5 per cent, with growth in number of households forecast to be 13 per cent. This 8 per cent demographic factor is in effect the household growth demand from the existing population.

Looking further forward towards 2100, and widening our focus to consider the global picture, factors like the growth in aging populations and trends in household size point to the need for more than two billion new homes before the next turn of the century. To put this into context, we are talking about the equivalent of the global construction and delivery of the European Union’s 28 countries every 13 years.

Housing supply is therefore at the centre of policy debate in many countries, and the demand for new housing is concentrating minds on pushing for further innovations in offsite construction to increase supply at a faster rate.

The UK Industrial Strategy, published in November 2017, has a strong focus on delivery of future offsite construction or prefabricated buildings. The offsite sector has grown rapidly over the last decade, with additional markets in health care, education and commercial buildings.

Scotland has led many offsite timber construction innovations, and many countries are developing timber-based solutions for housing to offset the longer term global material pressures in coming years for non-timber based resources

To deliver future housing supply globally will require a step change in mass planting and forest growth, which will also provide carbon sequestration benefits. The Scottish Government have increased their annual planting targets from 10,000 to 15,000 hectares and new timber-based solutions using home-grown timber are increasing.

Those countries which enable such policies and act sooner to increase their supply of timber-based housing in the first part of this century will most likely avoid the future construction material constraints in future.

The availability of material resources to meet the two billion homes demand emphasises even more the need for every country to engage with resource efficiency of materials. Policies which encourage “design for deconstruction” for buildings are essential to maximise future re-use, resources and carbon metrics.

The south-east of Scotland is forecast to be the fastest growing region of Scotland and fifth fastest in the UK over the next 20 years. During 1988-2008, more than 103,000 new homes were built in the area. In the next 20 years 145,000 new homes will be required, a 40 per cent increase.

To support future job opportunities and the required skills development growth, the Edinburgh and SE Scotland City Region Deal is investing in a Housing, Construction and Infrastructure Skills Gateway. This eight-year inclusive growth programme involves the partnership of Edinburgh, Fife, West Lothian and Borders colleges and the universities of Napier, Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt.

The HCI programme plans to support more than 8,000 people in the region in upskilling, new short courses and new advanced skills for construction technologies. The project is supported by the Scottish Government and will engage with industry, public bodies and training providers.

Edinburgh Napier University via City Region Deal support will provide advanced skills funding for places on our Masters programmes in Architectural Technology and Building Performance, and Timber Architectural Design and Technology.

The package includes ring-fenced funded places for women, the unemployed or people who have been out of work after providing care to others, and places for people in employment.

Housing supply is indeed a major challenge, but with challenges come opportunities; both internationally and closer to home.

Professor Sean Smith, Director of Edinburgh Napier University’s Institute for Sustainable Construction