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How Do Housing And Infrastructure Development Compare To Population Growth In The Uk?

By Expert Author: Kelly Leary

With the population of the UK expected to hit 66.8 million by 2030, there are many ideas on how that should be managed. The good news is solutions are being discussed.

The growth of the population in the United Kingdom runs counter to trends in many developed Western countries, where population is either flat or even in decline. For the most part, it is viewed as a positive, a revitalizing factor that energizes the economy and the culture. But it would be disingenuous to say that it does not come without challenges – and there are differing opinions on how it can be managed.

Aside from the housing shortage in the UK – attributable to a great degree to population growth, but matters of economics and lending standards from skittish financial institutions factor in as well – there is also a great deal of concern about the strain that ever-increasing numbers of people place upon the country’s infrastructure. From transport to resource demands to schools, more people require more of everything. How can the country manage if things continue on the same course?

The Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF), an independent research organisation that promotes sustainable development, has long held that increasing the private to-let and social housing sectors is essential, along with the supporting infrastructure necessary to support that. Without this, deep social inequity develops that negatively impacts just about everything else.

Another organisation, the UK-Green Building Council (UKGBC), devised the Sustainable Community Infrastructure, which seeks to deploy “integrated, cost effective, sustainable infrastructure such as community-scale power, cooling and health, water harvesting, waste disposal and telecommunications.” It places emphasis on urban planning and smart building, architecture that strives for net-zero energy use (power generation by the building itself through renewable sources, along with buildings that simply require less energy in the first place).

The UKGBC sponsors the country’s LEED certification program, but green building hardly stops there. The “Passivhaus” concept, pioneered in Germany, has taken root in the UK with 24 structures built thus far that achieve a very high degree of energy use efficiency. While perhaps too expensive to be built on a mass basis, these homes introduce ideas on sustainability that educate traditional homebuilders and which help develop a building materials supply chain with innovative products that can benefit all.

Forum for the Future, a London-based sustainable development non-government organisation, tackles the question on many fronts. It challenges the notion held by many that containing population growth is sensible or desirable. In its report “Growing Pains: Population and Sustainability in the UK,” the organisation argues that growth is inevitable and that all major public infrastructure bodies need to plan accordingly, preferably in cohesion and in consideration of many possibilities (i.e., with flexibility). A central point made is to “use what he have more efficiently,” meaning seek out improved technologies, renewable energy, improved water efficiency, a coherent and efficient transport system and innovative approaches to reducing flood risk. Where populations are located will matter, including how regional planning processes might shift where people live today to less populated areas (the report cites a skilled worker shortage in Scotland, for example).

The existing planning mechanisms in the UK have in recent years shifted authority to local councils, which can be an asset. There still are national directives, national schemes for increased homebuilding and national trend lines. But when an investment group, for example, asks to have a parcel of land rezoned to accommodate new housing, the local council has the opportunity to examine the proposal relative to very local needs. This is designed to speed up the process of land use changes and development overall. What is particularly important about this process is that market-led forces generally are more likely and more able to deliver what is most needed.

Investors in sustainable construction more typically see returns on investment over longer periods of time – say, seven years instead of three, because renewable energy features such as photovoltaic cells or tighter building envelopes carry front-loaded costs. That may not be workable in many development scenarios, however the imposition of carbon taxes, beyond the very low petroleum tax and climate change levy (CCL), would change the homebuilder ROI to something more immediate.

Individuals who consider joint venture land investment schemes should ask land investment advisors about matters of sustainability, as it might affect the viability of a project. But before getting to that point, an independent financial advisor should be consulted to determine if and how development risks and rewards factor into their personal financial portfolio.

Advisory: None of the information contained on these pages constitutes personal recommendations or advice. If you are unsure about the meaning of any information provided on this website, then please consult your financial or other professional advisor.

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