In an article entitled Demand Outweighs Supply posted online in November 2013, global real estate services provider Savills suggested that the "deadline in capacity from Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and regional housebuilders, which played a significant part in the delivery of homes in previous housebuilding upturns, has left a gap." It then went on to ask: "Could housing associations and local authorities step up to the breach and provide much needed new housing?"
Combine this pressure with the role that housing associations have to play in providing homes for rent and the headline-hitting shortage in housing provision across both the private and public sectors, and 2014 looks set to be the year that the focus shifts toward supply chains and product specification as a much savvier and shrewder industry gets back to work.
One housing association which recognises the importance of the 'right' products and materials in meeting its responsibilities as a landlord is United Welsh, a not-for-profit organisation providing housing and services for people in South Wales. Managing around 5,000 properties across 11 local authorities, the end of 2012 saw United Welsh receive a £30m low-cost loan from M&G investments to fund housing developments for an 18-month period, creating around 280 new homes. The money was part of a £153m deal between the Welsh government and M&G to enable housing associations in Wales to build 1,000 new social and affordable homes.
As 2013 drew to a close, United Welsh was able to complete one of its most recent developments; Hendre Road in Trowbridge. Designed by Cardiff-based chartered architects Davies, Llewelyn and Jones, the scheme comprises 17 dwellings; 11 one-,two-and three-bedroom houses and six flats.
United Welsh manages a diverse, mixed-use housing portfolio tailored for the needs of its residents. Where possible it uses a choice-based letting system called Select-a-Home; it also supports first-time buyers with its Homes within Reach programme, focusing on equity-share options. In addition, it carries a specialist residential range through its Living + scheme, providing housing for people aged 55 years and over.
Working with support providers, United Welsh supplies homes for people with diverse additional support needs; from those with learning disabilities to people of all ages who are homeless, young people leaving care, women fleeing domestic abuse, those recovering from substance misuse and people with mental health problems.
For United Welsh the use of appropriate products and materials is crucial in creating good homes in successful developments. For the Hendre Road development PVC-U fascias and soffits were used - on the face of it a fairly everyday product, but it is the 'fit and forget' factor that makes this an important addition to the build. Specified by United Welsh's preferred supplies, Pendragon Design & Build, the white fascias and soffits come with a 20-year guarantee.
"We have used Swish Building Products for many years," said Darren Best, quantity surveyor at Pendragon Design & Build. "The quality of their products and the high standard of service mean that we return to them again and again."
"Plus the fact that we can benefit from a 20-year guarantee when we specify white products makes it a win-win situation for us, our customers and, ultimately, the residents."
Once installed, PVC-U requires little or no maintenance, while timber needs regular painting - once every five years or re-staining once every three years according to the BRE Green Guide - if it is to achieve its reference service life.
With a contract price to repaint timber roofline on an 'average' three-bedroom semi-detached house costing several hundred pounds, the actual cost of maintaining timber for the duration of its 35-year BRE reference service life adds up to thousands of pounds. In fact, the long-term costs of using timber could go on to be even higher, as the service life of PVC-U is probably double the figure for timber, and PVC-U could last the lifetime of the building without needing to be replace.
As well as the obvious financial benefits, it is the added peace of mind that low-maintenance products offer. For United Welsh in particular, properties need to be safe, secure and maintained to a high standard; uncompromised by footfall and a high turnover of occupants. IT uses a planned maintenance programme combined with a responsive repairs service for the upkeep of its properties, so products such as PVC-U roofline are of a great benefit to the wider United Welsh team; being a reliable factor for long-term planning and forecasting and in helping to keep unnecessary costs and maintenance to a minimum.