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Alan Clawley believed that maintenance and improvement of the built environment is the starting point for urban regeneration and localisation. In 2002 WMNEG was awarded a grant by the West Midlands Social Economy Partnership to do an action research study. Study visits were made and a report was published in 2004 for distribution to policy-makers, practitioners and academics.
The study, “Sustainable Housing in Small Heath” (2004), is the illustrated story of the year-long study into the application of renewable energy in an inner-city neighbourhood. In section seven of his report on Small Heath he set out his thoughts on this.
The large scale urban renewal schemes of the 80s was seen by government as the only an alternative to massive clearance, redevelopment with municipal housing and building huge new council estates on the edge of the city or further afield in new or expanded towns. The Conservative government with Michael Heseltine, its leading minister, was enthusiastic about it at the time.
The New Labour government has moved even further down this path. Few council houses have been built and within a few years there may be no council owned housing at all. The job of managing and building social housing has been passed to the voluntary housing movement.
Whoever is responsible for “social housing” in Small Heath it is inconceivable that they will try to return to the days of mass clearance and redevelopment. They will have enough on their plate dealing with the legacy of the former council housing built since the war without worrying about poor owner-occupiers. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that some form of public intervention will be needed in the next decade to ensure the future of its people and their houses.
We have the technology for sustainable housing now. For the last twenty years the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales has been trying out new ideas for ecological housing. Their website describes the technologies which are available now, publications, consultancies and training courses. The basic tools in the sustainability tool box include photo-voltaic roof tiles, solar heaters, super-insulation, rainwater collection, and reed beds. There are many more yet to come.
Fitting all 8,500 houses in Small Heath with a solar water heater would be a start. A more detailed technical and financial feasibility study needs to be done to get an idea of the total costs involved over many years and suggest means by which it could be financed. There are now many ecological consultants and green architectural practices capable of doing this.
There are no solar panels in areas like Small Heath: the application of this technology to Small Heath is the next step. If a big impact is to be made then it is in areas such as Small Heath that progress must be made. This will not happen on its own, nor can it be left to the manufacturers of green building products to sell them to the residents of Small Heath. Government must take the first step to make sustainable housing affordable and available to people on the lowest incomes. This will certainly require a new Act of Parliament, along the lines of the Housing Act 1974. A private members bill will not be adequate.
The practical approach would be like that used by Urban Renewal in the 80s as described earlier. This will mean organising work at the individual, street and neighbourhood levels:
- A local project team should be set up for Small Heath with staff skilled in sustainable housing.
- An open competition for providing the service could be held for which suitable agencies, such as housing associations, surveyors, architects, community development trusts, voluntary organisations, and even departments of the City Council are invited to bid.
- Small factories and workshops should be set up at the start to make, install and maintain the components needed.
- Local people would be employed and trained to run the businesses and do the work.
No time limit should be put on the programme. The process of converting old houses into sustainable houses should be seen as a continuous process of renewal that needs long term support, not bursts of funding.
“A climate-friendly infrastructure programme would make the UK’s 30m buildings super-energy efficient, dramatically reduce energy bills, fuel poverty and greenhouse gas emissions. Building affordable, highly insulated new homes, predominantly on brown field sites, would involve a large number of apprenticeships and professional jobs, as well as opportunities for the self-employed and local small businesses. This can be paid for by “people’s quantitative easing”, from fairer taxes, local authority bonds and green ISAs”.
Tags: Colin Hines, energy bills, fairer taxes, fuel poverty, green ISAs, greenhouse gas emissions, local authority bonds, people’s quantitative easing”, solar energy, urban renewable, West Midlands Social Economy Partnership