Built Environment Editor
Build Back Better (BBB) is a relatively new concept that was first defined in 2015 having been proposed by the Japanese Delegation at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction that took place in Sendai, Japan in March of that year.
Further background information can be found here: BBB It’s a concept that is gaining increasing recognition as an effective means to reduce vulnerability to future disasters, and to strengthen physical, economic, social and environmental resilience.
In Wales this hasn’t gone unnoticed and in May of this year The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales published a series of recommendations for a green recovery budget, and this itself emphasised the need to build back better in Wales in the medium to long-term. The full document can be read here: Green Recovery Budget
The economic impact of COVID-19 is only just beginning to be felt, and how governments respond to it will have a lasting impact.
The UK Government is going to embark on a more traditional course of action by green lighting a series of capital projects that focus on the construction of new hospitals, schools and roads in England. This will pump money into the economy, however it won’t guarantee improvements in healthcare or education, these are complex issues that need deeper consideration. As for road building, there’s plenty of evidence to show that more roads result in more congestion. This is the induced traffic effect and is counter to the measures being taken to improve the environment. The announced relaxation of planning controls to make it easier to convert retail and office premises into housing has the potential to create much needed homes in town and city centres. However, this could well result in a high volume of unsuitably small apartments flooding the rental market in England, and hopefully there will be little appetite for Wales to follow suit.
In Wales we do have the opportunity for housing to be one of the key drivers for our post COVID-19 economic recovery, and this makes sense in part because we already had a housing crisis before the pandemic. There is a genuine need to construct new homes, and this itself presents an opportunity to create carbon neutral housing that will also support our environmental ambitions. Significantly, having an affordable, well built home is life enhancing. It provides people with that fundamental of all needs – a home.
House building, as a means of stimulating economic recovery in Wales, also has the advantage of being able to spread the investment across the whole country, so many more communities could expect to benefit. Where homes are built by Housing Associations they do of course charge rent, which ensures that money keeps going back into the economy year after year.
For our built environment to support and enhance the way we live, the build back better approach of embedding resilience into our communities and economy offers an alternative to the fixes we’ve seen put in place time and again as a means to alleviate the impacts of previous recessions.
In terms of building resilience into our built environment, firstly and uncomfortable as it is, we need to acknowledge that in terms of retail even before the pandemic the sector was struggling, and the casual dining sector has also seen a number of chains starting to fail. COVID-19 has further exacerbated this situation, and in the coming months it seems inevitable that we will see more retail and hospitality businesses fail. In addition, if we see significant numbers of people continue to work remotely on a regular basis, the demand for office space will start to weaken and our urban centres will further struggle as the volume of people travelling to them on a daily basis reduces.
We can’t underestimate how significant the impact of the recession will be for citizens and our business community.
To help mitigate its impact, it will be crucial to find and implement new ways to repurpose our towns and cities as a means to embed lasting resilience in our built environment. COVID-19 has forced us to think differently about our future, its exposed weaknesses in our built environment, and yet at the same time it does present us with a unique opportunity to build back better.