Digital editor of Housing Association magazine, Joe Bradbury, gives his thoughts on the future

I’ve written extensively on the subjects of social housing, fuel poverty, homelessness, the environment and about the industry overall and, it’s been such a strange year, with the COVID pandemic that I thought I would try and look beyond the current strangeness and do a bit of futurecasting.

So what does the next decade hold for society in the UK?

Are we really nearing the end of gas?

And what will social housing look like in the years to come?

Perhaps this will drive a cultural change in how we approach work

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Digital editor of Housing Association

What will society look like in 10-years’ time?

Covid-aside, the biggest change I see in society is the way we communicate. Technology is accelerating at such a rapid pace and face-to-face meetings appear to be at risk of becoming obsolete. Yet human communication is a technological miracle honed throughout history, shaping the reality we live in today.

The origins of human language will perhaps remain forever obscure. Some scholars assume the development of primitive language as early as Homo erectus (1.8 million years ago). What we do know is we have been developing it for many, many, many years.

There are so many subtle nuances to a conversation that we pick up on and read, consciously and unconsciously, from physical cues in body language to unspoken energies that can be felt in a room, or even sensed in an atmosphere?

Can reverting to a 2-dimensional way of communicating via an external electronic device that leaves out these crucial nuances to reaching an understanding truly be called “progress?”

Will things have really changed?

Will the opening up of planning lead to more social housing, or less?

Years of research have revealed to me that there are differing schools of thought towards planning reform.

Some hail the revamp of our archaic planning system as the dawn of a new era for social housing, cutting the red tape that for years has prevented us thus far from making any meaningful dent on the housing crisis.

Others see it as an amoral excuse to throw up poorly designed buildings quickly for profit, or to turn buildings that are unfit for housing into botched living spaces that won’t do anything for the health and wellbeing of tenants long-term.

Both arguments hold weight. I’m on the fence, watching. I know I believe that we should allow ourselves to be guided by a strong social and environmental conscience and do what is right for people and our planet.

I know the original planning system served as a barrier to building, which at a time when homelessness is sky-high is shameful.

I also know that if poorly built homes are thrown up on greenbelt and people are crammed into shoddily converted offices and told to call it home, the school of thought I subscribe to will become crystal clear.

Will new houses include an office?

Will new homes now be redesigned to automatically include office space for the home workers of the future?

Great question! I think at the moment people dread this happening based largely on their negative experiences of home working throughout lockdown. But let’s not forget these are exceptional circumstances. Trying to work from your dining room table when you aren’t allowed visitors and are permitted one walk a day under threat of arbitrary totalitarian police action is tough going for anyone.

Working from home in a well-designed office for an employer who has pulled out all the stops to make home working efficient is another matter entirely.

In time and with hindsight, I think it will become increasingly harder for employers to justify sky-high overheads to themselves. Perhaps this will drive a cultural change in how we approach work.

All I know is in this, the great age of pollution, seeing cars filled with frustrated people stacked up on the M6 for hours each morning trying to squeeze into Birmingham city centre seems… a little dated. But that’s just me!

Are we really at the end of gas now?

Or will the housebuilders continue to demand ‘cheap’ heating boxes?

I think that unfortunately, housebuilders will continue to demand whatever generates the greatest profit.

The way we design, build, heat, power and recycle our homes needs to change completely. England alone currently has around 2.5 million fuel-poor households. That’s one in ten families that cannot afford to heat their home.

A recent study found that if we burn all of the remaining fossil fuels on Earth, almost all of the ice in Antarctica will melt, causing sea levels to rise by as much as 200 feet - enough to drown most major cities in the world.

It would be a shame if this was the way we ultimately chose to tackle fuel poverty, wouldn’t it? Especially given the undeniable potential of renewable technologies such as solar heating, geothermal heating, heat pumps and heat exchangers to recover lost heat.

Will the car still dominate?

Will the growing demands for something to be done about environment along with the health of people lead to new ways of building communities around people, rather than around cars?

It certainly needs to! But as Joe Strummer of The Clash said, “the future is unwritten.”

…until then, we live in hope.

Joe Bradbury is digital editor of Housing Association