Energy efficient housing

The announcement by Paul Wheelhouse that the Scottish government will work on new regulations to ensure that new homes use renewable or low carbon energy sources for heating is a small but welcome step in the right direction.  However, the timescale for action is disappointingly unambitious; the new measures are not planned to be implemented until 2024.  Setting a much shorter deadline would send a message to private sector builders and local authorities that ‘climate emergency’ is exactly what it says. In housing, as elsewhere, action needs to be take place on the shortest time lines possible.

Let’s up the pressure for a mass public programme of retrofitting existing houses to be energy efficient.  This is a necessary step and in addition the climate jobs and the improvements in living conditions that it would generate would have a massive impact on people’s attitude to the climate emergency and what needs to be done.  It would be just transition in practice.

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Passive House, Image CC BY SA 3.0

Housing and climate action

One of the workshop streams at the Scot.E3 conference in November was devoted to housing. This report is from Mike Downham who was one of the facilitators of the discussion.  

  1. Housing in Scotland is a disgrace – from the Muirhead tower blocks to new-build. A participant from Hungary, who has been in Glasgow for a year or so and has had extreme difficulties in finding somewhere to live and which is affordable to heat, said that Scotland’s housing compares very badly with Hungary’s, which at least has thick walls. “You’ve got to do something about it”.
  2. Student housing. The Universities are supplying student housing which is unaffordable except for wealthy students, mostly from the Far East, and make it difficult for most students to find less expensive accommodation. There has been a lot of public criticism about students having such high quality housing, while many citizens are homeless. But the reality is that the majority of students have huge difficulties in finding housing they can afford to rent and heat. It’s not unusual for them to end up on someone else’s sofa.
  3. Commodification of housing since 1980 is at the root of the housing crisis in Scotland. Housing policy has been primarily aimed at growing the national economy, instead of housing being recognised as a human right.
  4. What we can do together towards a just transition in Scotland’s Housing:
  • Demand that Councils bring building standards up to passive-house specifications and replace building control jobs lost in the name of austerity, without which new housing can’t be adequately inspected. These changes are perfectly feasible for Councils.
  • Put pressure on the Scottish Government to ensure that the new Scottish Investment Bank will direct enough funding to build the new houses needed (this is urgent – the Scottish Investment Bank Bill is going through parliament now).
  • Put pressure on Pension Funds to invest in housing.
  • Support grass-roots protest as demonstrated by Living Rent’s support for Muirhouse tenants, which started with door-knocking to get all tenants’ views.
  • Suggest to XR that they target some of their direct action on grass-roots projects such as Muirhouse
  • Suggest that grass-roots projects such as Muirhouse deliver their demands to the COP 26 – to both the formal and the alternative meetings.
  • Keep in our sites the eventual objective of a National Housing Company through which communities will choose the type of housing, local facilities and green species they need
  1. Climate is just one part of the wider argument – so the challenge for the Climate Movement is to build links with all other movements concerned with social injustice.
  2. “We need to close this down” – just as we would have no hesitation in doing if there was a proposal to build an asbestos factory at the end of our street. Though this was said in respect of the climate polluters, the fact that it was said in a discussion on Housing, Health and Fuel Poverty suggests that it should be our approach to all forms of social and planetary injustice.

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Image (Construction of the Passive House) CC BY SA 2.0 from Sustainable Sanitation Alliance  

 

Urban change in a time of climate crisis

Housing is a central issue in the transition to a long term sustainable economy.  As a group Scot.E3 has produced resources on Fuel Poverty and we are currently working on more resources that look at how passive houses and a mass campaign of home insulation could contribute to a just transition while at the same time as improving the quality off people’s lives.  We’re pleased to publish a post by Save Leith Walk activist Ian Hood on the work that the campaign has done to think about the future of hosing in their area.

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Early in 2018, it became clear that developers wanted to demolish a long parade of shops in Leith Walk and replace it with a student accommodation.  A popular local campaign emerged to challenge this and in January 2019 Edinburgh Council agreed that the building should not be demolished and that the proposed development was unacceptable.  Planning Permission was refused.

But the campaign has always been about more than just opposing the wishes of developers.  To be successful in the long run we need to promote an alternative vision, one that reflects the needs of the local community and can take it forward.

Over the last year campaign members have spoken to thousands of local workers and residents about what is important to them. We have directly canvassed the opinions of hundreds of local people about their preferences for new development in the Leith Walk area.   This was followed up by a local community planning workshop that looked at the needs and wishes of people who lived in the area.

And at the heart of the emerging view was the sense that any new development had to be both sustainable and promote strong environmental values.

We did not create a single business plan or an architectural map for developers.  We identified the three different elements that can contribute to the vision.  Sketch maps that illustrate each of these were drawn up.   The need for more social housing dominated in all of the visions and also important were business space, community support and green space.

Running through the core of the vision is the idea that ecological and environmental issues are not add ons at the end of a planning process but integral to any design.

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Community Housing (see image above) faces up to the long term problem of housing provision in Leith and provides a range of solutions to housing need.  Building diverse housing that allows people to live and play together strengthens our communities in fundamental ways.

  • Opening up to the Leith Walk community by creating new access through the centre of the building.
  • A covered walkway could be created at the rear of the building bringing the housing units into connection with the sandstone building.
  • Up to Eleven housing blocks in different sizes and shapes could be built in the land behind offering a range of housing opportunities including
    • Open Market homes,
    • intergenerational housing,
    • flexible and adaptable homes,
    • co-housing models
  • Designed to the Passive Housing standards making environmentally friendly homes.
  • Living walls could blend the development into the surrounding space
  • There could be a shared guest house and other community space reducing the need for spare rooms and encouraging sharing.
  • Affordable student housing owned by the community.

Community Cohesion is about strengthening community links and helping people to focus on the challenges that affect them and develop new skills to tackle them.   It can create a new vision of community where people from different racial, class, gender, age and religious backgrounds are partners in their own futures.

  • A refreshed building, made Green Energy resilient.
  • New opportunities to existing businesses and new small, low cost starter units.
  • Blocks of colony style eco homes consisting of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom flats to allow for real flexibility over time.Social housing block providing accessible housing for older people and disabled people.
  • A Community Event Centre that could offer classes and social opportunities.
  • Opportunities for beehives, public artworks, fruit trees, bench seating. And an open air market.

Community Enterprise addresses the challenge of how to create employment opportunities in Leith that meet the demands of the global market.  It recognises that businesses are stronger when cooperation and mutual support are part of a shared value basis.  Working together to create jobs, new business and entrepreneurial opportunities can transform our community.

  • The building would be refreshed, upgrading it with an accessible green roof and additional business pods.
  • The existing shops and business would be revitalised to offer opportunities to existing businesses as well as offering small, low cost starter units.
  • Design attention to wellbeing and support for locals. A community bakery could be integral part of the building to allow people to come together, to bake bread together and to share bread together.
  • A social enterprise and community space to train and share business skills including incubator units for creative, media, IT and other businesses.
  • A block of open market starter, eco homes with space for new businesses
  • Additional green space with open meadows planted with wildflowers, recreational natural green space, community orchard, accessible allotments, beehives and vegetable gardens.

Our vision seeks to build on the strength of the existing community and to create new ways of bringing people together.  They can enhance the area, preserve its diversity and inclusivity, and contribute towards Leith having a bright future in the 21stcentury.

The Stead’s Place site is too small to contain all of these solutions but we will work with other sites and local stakeholders over the next few months to develop our plans.

Urban development today in the light of a real Climate Crisis needs to work with people’s needs and not be imposed by profit seekers.   Single sites cannot be allowed to simply focus on one issue, retail, student accommodation, tourism but must integrate different part of the community’s need into a coherent vision.

We have started that work and welcome the support of others in continuing to develop this vision.

Ian Hood

Save Leith Walk

For More Information and contact us

Email:  Info@saveleithwalk.org

Web:www.saveleithwalk.org

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