Opinion Piece by Guest Editor - Bill Dunster

With probably up to 50,000 deaths anticipated in the UK and more possible with a second wave – we all have a duty to try and turn this huge sacrifice into positive social change. We all have an imperative to turn a negative into a positive opportunity and try and reset our economy to benefit the maximum number of people for as long as possible. Having achieved clean air, and reductions in traffic, silence and increased wildlife in urban areas – let’s keep it that way? Do we really need cheap holidays overseas, or high levels of personal car use or shopping trips or even offices? Now that people are allowed to take unlimited exercise outdoors, there could be for many a significant increase in quality of life, merged with more working from home and more family time and a step reduction in their carbon footprint. Why should the elderly be placed at risk in care homes when they could be looked after at home if space could be found? Maybe it’s time to swap the status symbol ‘motor’ for an e-bike and car pool membership, and put granny in the garage? We appear to value our cars more than our parents and certainly give them more space and probably more attention? Surely it is urgent that we debate the benefits of this enforced reality before blindly just re–instating the pre-Covid status Quo and all its attendant implications including environmental degradation and run away climate change?

Unfortunately many jobs are tied into the old economy. We still have to solve housing, welfare and many social problems often derived from years of social inequality and austerity. It seems likely that a 15% reduction in house prices is possible, which will make speculative development and investment difficult and result in considerable negative equity. We probably need to find ways to work from home and provide new affordable homes without relying on government grants. There just isn’t going to be any spare government funds to build housing infrastructure on the scale needed. So let’s be practical. Let’s relax space standards, allow extensions, home offices, let’s allow people to solve their own problems. It’s way better than catching Covid in a care home, sleeping on sofas, or worst of all being homeless. If you can build your own kitchen cabinets you can probably build your own tiny house or tiny office and retrofit your home to reduce or even eliminate its carbon footprint. The existing construction industry could refocus on providing these empowering ‘kits of parts’ – and facilitate this process with training and demonstration. I can imagine Futurebuild working as well online as at an annual event at Excel – becoming the marketplace for this populist self-help movement. Yes – big projects with big contractors will still happen at a reduced scale – but now the real story is likely to be more diverse. We have to make a future that works for ourselves, and try and minimise problems such as housing without crying for government help. We may not have much option.

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