Public Health England report on COVID-19

22nd June 2020

Public Health England (PHE)’s latest report (published on 17th June 2020) which looked at the impact of Covid-19 on BAME groups, includes one particular message that simply cannot be ignored. Housing challenges may exacerbate the risks associated with Covid-19. In other words, housing – safe, secure, affordable and habitable housing – is intrinsically linked to health and well-being.

Citing housing as one of the social and structural risks which could potentially impact BAME groups and lead to an increased risk of COVID-19, the report discusses issues around overcrowding, quality of housing as well as housing insecurity as possible reasons for the increased risks. Whilst housing will of course be just one component of a much wider picture involving various other socio-economic, occupational, cultural and structural factors, the report nevertheless puts forward a strong case for why it is imperative that the construction and delivery of new homes, including affordable homes, is prioritised.

As this is very much in line with the pledge already made by the government to deliver one million additional homes in the next five years, there is no need for a reinvention of the wheel. Rather the pledge can be easily achieved by providing greater support to housing providers, particularly Housing Associations and the Build to Rent market, and by utilising modern technologies, including off-site and on-site modular construction and 3D printing.

There will certainly be a need for some consideration regarding the design of new homes. Offices/studies, balconies and other exclusive use amenities come to mind in particular but it will not be unsurprising if there is also an increase in enquiries from, and the general expectations of, prospective buyers that relate to ventilation and insulation of homes.

It will also be necessary to give greater thought to estate and infrastructure development, with perhaps more of a focus placed on recreational facilities and support services that promote good health and wellbeing, and reduce poverty. The pandemic has certainly made clear just how important open space areas are for the physical and mental health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. It is likely future developments will place increasing importance on the creation of quality Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) for relaxation and exercise.

Prior to 2020, there was already an emphasis being placed on quality design, through proposals to create the future new homes ombudsman as well as the creation of new quality standards in the new forthcoming Help to Buy scheme. Although the report concentrated on the impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities, the findings of the PHE’s report are very much in keeping with the direction that was already being taken by the government. It is likely that we will see a push for greater collaboration between the housing sector, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) so as to improve health and welfare through housing policies and design.

However, the knowledge and skills needed to construct and deliver homes fit for a post-COVID-19 world already exist within the housing sector. More importantly, whether we look at national house builders or local community-based organisations, there is a genuine desire to address the housing shortage and provide appropriate housing solutions for all, especially those with particular vulnerabilities. We simply need to tap into the existing pool of talent and resources, work collaboratively and most importantly, place lived and intersectional experiences at the heart of decision making in the planning and construction phases of housing delivery.

Blake Morgan are pleased to be a part of the collective effort in delivering quality housing, across the UK, in conjunction with our developer and housing association clients. We will continue to monitor changes in housing practice and policies and keep our clients fully updated in respect of any additional new build requirements which may be announced by the government.

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