Bricks and water: Improving water resilience

Posted On: 
18th June 2018

We need a fairer, stronger and simpler planning framework for delivering water-efficient homes that are resilient to flooding – a bricks and water code, say Angela Smith MP and Baroness McIntosh

WSBF is proposing a new ‘bricks and water sustainability code’ for new housing

As politicians we are passionate about water and housing development and have long been frustrated by the lack of a clear strategic framework and the inadequacies of the planning system.  That is why we have co-chaired a new report investigating housing, water and planning policy in England.

Bricks and Water is a report that addresses tough and complex issues – how do we build the number of homes we need in England, while at the same time ensuring we improve flood resilience and water availability?

The Westminster Sustainable Business Forum (WSBF), which is publishing the report this week, conducted a unique study which brought together big players in the housebuilding, water and planning sectors.

Future water shortages in England are a very real possibility. There is a popular perception that England is a rainy, green isle which does not need to be overly concerned about having enough water. But the National Infrastructure Commission’s recent report, Preparing for a drier future, made it clear that by 2050 we will need an extra four billion litres of water each and every day. The scale of the potential supply shortfall could be as high as 22%. 

At the same time, flooding is a serious problem. In late 2015, Storm Desmond caused an estimated £1.6bn worth of damage, the largest proportion of which was damage to housing. The risk of flooding is only likely to get worse due to climate change: 1.8 million houses in England are currently at high risk of flooding, and this number could more than double by the mid century at a potential annual cost of £2.2bn per annum. This highlights the importance of building homes in the right place and to the right standard.

Water efficiency and energy efficiency in the home go hand in hand. While there is often not a strong financial incentive for homeowners to save water (even if you have a water meter), there can be large bill savings from water efficiency due to saving money on energy for heating water. In a typical UK household, approximately 20% of the energy used in the home is used to heat water, more than any other appliance.

WSBF is proposing a new ‘bricks and water sustainability code’ for new housing; a fairer, tougher and simpler planning framework designed to deliver to the highest standards possible and to ensure a level playing field for developers.

A range of measures would be required to facilitate delivery of the new code, not least of these being acceptance of water and sewerage companies as statutory consultees on individual planning applications.

Green infrastructure such as sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) offers many benefits, including flood mitigation and biodiversity. The coverage of SuDS on housing estates is still low, however, and the new sustainability code would require sustainable drainage as the norm. Builders should obviously be supported in adapting to this new standard.

The government needs to become serious about sustainable development in delivering its ambitious housebuilding targets of 300,000 new homes built per year. Bricks and Water found that housebuilders were frustrated with the fragmented framework within which they were forced to operate. They made it clear to us the importance of consistently applied standards.

That is why we are recommending the government create a new property resilience certificate (PRC) for homes. This would rate our homes on water efficiency, energy performance, flood risk and resilience. The PRC would be the first step in making homebuyers (and private renters) aware of these critically significant factors and they would provide an important first step in driving the development of a market for highly rated homes.

The climate is changing, and we need to adapt to it. Bricks and Water is a report that addresses tough and complex issues and stands as a contribution to the very necessary debate we need to have on this crucially important topic.

For our part, we will continue this conversation across the sectors and drill down into specific aspects in follow up work on the difficult issue of how to achieve housing growth, while at the same time successfully addressing water management challenges. 

Angela Smith MP and Baroness McIntosh of Pickering are co-chairs of the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum’s investigation into water and housing policy in England