A Time to be Thrifty – How eliminating “waste” can help housing associations to meet a growing demand.

DESPITE the best efforts of Sir David Attenborough and the undeniable chorus of conservation created by the compelling wake of Blue Planet’s wave, the UK population remains very much a throwaway culture.

The shunning of single-use plastics to protect marine life is admirable but vowing to re-use or return coffee cups falls far short of redressing the excesses of consumerism.

Our seemingly insatiable desire to buy the latest must-have gadget and for the frisson of owning things fresh from the box has led to a ridiculous rate of redundancy with anything used or deemed old discarded as debris.

The need, however, to curb consumption and care for the current is very real and extends to the nation’s housing stock – or more specifically its housing shortage.

Given analysts predict the government is set to miss its target to increase housebuilding to 300,000 properties a year by almost a decade and with more than a million households already on the social housing waiting list, looking after what we already have is not a matter of choice.

Efforts to extend the lives of residential buildings are, of course, nothing new. Character cottages in the countryside have long been courted and there is an army of architectural appreciators acting as live-in curators of listed buildings.

Homes with heritage, however, are generally the preserve of the wealthy and those with the means to apply tender loving care to their property when roof tiles need replacing and plasterwork requires patching.

Is the same attention of detail and diligence given to the maintenance of social housing, the blocks of flats and two-up, two-down terraces managed by local authorities and housing associations? On the whole, no, but that is not to directly criticise those charged with doing so.

By their very nature, buildings with communal areas and a higher density of population are subject to greater wear and tear than those on private estates and the pressures on public spending mean repairs tend to be reactive.

Legacy issues – be it replacing cladding or addressing outdated construction methods – and safety measures are also rightly given priority over any in-need-but-not-as-essential modifications.

Like it or not though, the long wait for the new means those social housing properties already occupied must remain part of an enduring solution and consequently a sticking plaster approach to keeping buildings habitable is truly a false economy.

Regardless of whether a building was built two or 20 years ago, adopting a more proactive stance to its upkeep delivers value for money in the short-, mid- and long-term.

Indeed, the use of a Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) programme represents a pre-emptive strike against a property slipping into a state of disrepair and adding to the homebuilding burden.

When conducted by a specialist well-versed in measuring the condition of buildings and familiar with the shortfalls of historic and contemporary construction techniques, it can provide a reliable blueprint from which budgets can be accurately set and dates for intervention plotted.

A PPM removes any element of doubt – eliminating the need for guesswork relating to the fabric of a property and its mechanical and electrical components and mitigating the risk of unexpected, expensive and potentially life-threatening events.

Investments in replacement costs can therefore be targeted to ensure longevity of any works and maintenance prioritised and diarised to ensure problems are not flagged for the first time at the point of failure.

Put in place for a fraction of a building’s gross development value – as little as 0.01 percent, a PPM provides peace of mind for both landlords and tenants. The former can plan fiscally for the future with confidence while the latter can sleep easy knowing their safety and welfare is not dependent on demand elsewhere and that their own financial commitments are charted.

Adept at assessing – and if required administering or managing – the care levels required to satisfy and surpass regulations and keep the doors of properties open for longer, the team at HartDixon are a worthy ally for housing associations seeking to future-proof their operations.

Having already assisted a number across a diverse range of projects, we are accustomed to the scale of the challenges faced and tailoring our services to meet them.

Importantly, we are also well-schooled in the fundamentals of sustainability and, while bereft of a magic wand, believe even the “old” can be rejuvenated or retrofitted to feature young and emerging environmentally-friendly practices.

HartDixon delivered PPMs can help to ease the national shortage of social housing and – as strategic tools that champion retention, refurbishment and reuse rather than waste – are measures of which Sir David would certainly approve.