Since the formal end of the Home-Grown Homes Project in March we’ve been applying the learning from it with social landlords. We’re moving from research into implementation – inviting social landlords to identify projects we could support them on. We have also formed a community of practice for our member development teams which has so far focussed on the key challenges in creating net zero carbon housing solutions. Our WoodBUILD events programme has been focussed on supporting social landlords and their partners to meet the new Welsh Development Quality Requirements 2021. The events have mostly been held virtually and have brought together experts in the field to contribute their thinking on action each organisation can take to respond.

The 2021 WDQR – Creating Beautiful Homes and Spaces

For readers unfamiliar with the new housing standards social landlords have to meet, they represent a significant change of approach for Welsh Government, which both funds and regulates them. It’s been a long-awaited review and its outcome is ambitious. They set minimum standards but encourage something better. And it’s not just about the homes but the spaces created around them.

WoodBUILD

The Launch Event kicked off with a welcome from Shayne Hembrow of Wales & West who with Welsh Government are WoodBUILD sponsors. It brought together Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters, Campbell Lammie, one of the new standard architects and Pobl’s Neil Barber.

Exciting people about trees

100 virtual delegates heard Lee express his admiration for Woodknowledge Wales’ contribution to the ‘deep dive’ into tree planting. Society’s view on trees, wood, timber and forests he described is atrophied and not mature. ‘We need to excite people about trees and what they can do for us’. He talked of an alliance for change to get things done on tree planting where we needed to plant 86 million trees in 9 years, the enormity of which he thinks we haven’t yet grasped and which wasn’t helped by the ‘alien’ perception farmers have of tree planting. He wants to build a wood economy at the heart of which is creating 20,000 homes using MMC and timber solutions. He also sees an industry needing to adapt and to ask what the best use of trees is – garden fences or homes that displace carbon? As far as he is concerned, we need to plant more trees and make better use of the ones we do plant, to maximise the economic value – a genuinely exciting and huge challenge which he promised to drive forward with the deep dive group.

Raising the bar for new developments

Campbell Lammie gave a quick summary of the WDQR 2021, the first change in standards since the launch of the Development Quality Requirements in 2005. He described them as ‘raising the bar’ in a non-prescriptive way which, he hoped would produce better designs and a dialogue with the sector, given the need to respond to the climate emergency, move away from fossil fuels, favour a fabric first approach and encourage the use of timber. Campbell outlined the opportunities for using timber, an approach which he felt was made more likely by the consideration of upfront embodied carbon assessment likely in his view to be something which would become mandatory in the future with Net Zero Carbon taking more of a ‘front seat’. He was aware of the ambition in England to introduce whole life carbon assessment and ‘Part Z’. The target for projects to reach EPC A, with a fabric focus and an end to the use of fossil fuels could Campbell acknowledged be at odds with the ambition to lower carbon and this is where alternative approaches like Passivhaus came into play. Space standards were being mandated for the first time, gigabit broadband and attaining Secured by Design Gold standard were also features which would be included in a review in 2023.

Dealing with increasing complexity

Neil Barber, in responding identified several positives including clarity of policy, significant funding and alignment of funding streams, ambition in scale and requirements on quality, space and sustainability.  He identified the role of social landlords: creating timber system coherence, confidence, certainty and demand for the supply chain, sharing endeavour and moving beyond pilots. He described opportunities in standardisation, designing for manufacturing and assembly (off site), apprenticeships and training, investing in local economies and communities and recognition of timber as a low carbon material along with sustainably managed forests as a carbon store. He acknowledged the need for urgency in saying ‘we’ve kicked the can down the road for too long’. The delivery challenges included increasing complexity in the development process, lack of resources across many areas, rapid change, material price hikes and delivery delays.

Delegates posed questions on extending the standards to all homes, the availability of passivhaus type metrics, the skills challenge and tree planting performance. This is only the start of an ongoing dialogue. If you would like to be part of this conversation, please get in touch with david.hedges@woodknowledgewales.co.uk.