Transition to sustainable development in the UK housing sector: from case study to model implementation

There is evidence that the housing and community sector in the UK is unsustainable, in CO2 emissions, overuse of land and other resources, social and economic indicators such as a lack of good quality housing, and institutional problems of a conservative building system and a planning and regulatory system that is slow to respond to changing needs and demands.

We review previous work on the housing and communities sector in the UK, showing it to be not only unsustainable, but to have the characteristics of a systemic, persistent problem. We then use the notion of systemic change or ‘transitions’ to analyse this sector and implement it as a case study using our previously developed transitions model.

Our model results show that the landscape changes of climate change (perception) and rising fuel prices can in themselves lead to a 1/3 reduction in direct CO2 emissions from the residential sector in 2050 relative to 2000, despite countervailing demographic changes. Policies supporting renovation and demolition of inefficient housing and high quality new-build, combined with regulations and subsidies supporting actors who encourage low CO2 emission practices, increase emission reductions to nearly 1/2.

However, if the present regime of property developers, housebuilders, and city planners remains unchanged, the CO2 reductions are greatly reduced. This is the case even if the business-as-usual agenda is altered to incorporate more energy efficient housing ideas, since the deeper structural changes needed for serious emission cuts are impeded.

Policies supporting actors with good social sustainability practices improve indicators such as community strength and accessibility in 2050. These policies can also improve CO2 emission reduction through cuts to indirect household emissions, as social cohesion and mixed-use zoning encourage localism and reduce traffic.

Bergman, N., L. Whitmarsh, and J. Kohler

Research areas