Social housing stock improvements needed


ONE of Britain’s leading architects has called on the experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic to drive forth change to the country’s social housing stock.

Speaking to Project Scotland, Ben Derbyshire, chair of HTA Design LLP and former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), said that measures such as the redesign of offices will be needed in the interim, however the UK Government should put more emphasis on ensuring better living conditions to support the long-term.

Mr Derbyshire pointed towards the ‘very powerful’ correlation between the rate of infection and death and the incidence of overcrowding.

He continued, “My major concern is that we should avoid being misled into a discussion of the kind of micro changes that we will obviously need to make as interim measures while we filter back to normal life, with different ways of moving about inside buildings, different ways of laying out offices and so on.

“Let’s avoid any sense that there’s going to be some ghastly post-apocalyptic world in which human beings won’t be able to enjoy each other’s company in the way that we have come used to.”

Mr Derbyshire said we should now look towards improving existing homes. He explained that with companies now realising the benefits of home working, large amounts of space at home should be available to everyone – regardless of their financial standing.

He added, “We should not permit urban sprawl that would benefit the fortunate few who can afford it and that would in the end overcome our ability to deal with the other major crisis of our time, which is the climate emergency. We mustn’t do that. One of the other things we must do is something about the inequity of the distribution of space – both internal and external space in our cities.

“Whilst we’re seeking to overcome the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to look at repairing our economy, repairing our communities and repairing the sense of grief and loss that many communities across the country have suffered through illness and death – we have to deal with that, and we should repair it by rebuilding a green economy. 

“For me, one of the major opportunities not to miss is that there is, at last, please, a massive programme of retrofitting existing stock to offset climate change at the same time as providing people with places to live which are less costly to heat. There are great opportunities here and we should not be distracted from it.”