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Church-housing analysis reports positive results

13 April 2023

Church Commissioners

An illustration from the report

An illustration from the report

MOST of the land that the Church Commissioners have set aside for new housing is performing strongly on sustainability, social inclusion, and affordability, new analysis has found.

In the Strategic Land portfolio report, the Commissioners confirm their plan to build 30,000 new homes on 60 sites around England, of which 9000 are to be affordable (News, 27 May 2022). Of the 30,000 homes, more than 9000 are currently subject to live planning applications, it says.

The report, dated March 2023 and published on Tuesday, gives an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) analysis of this portfolio. This analysis is broken down into ten performance areas: climate change and net zero; mobility and transport connectivity; biodiversity; high-quality building design; housing access and affordability; social inclusion; empowering communities; land stewardship; business ethics; and transparency and accountability.

These are translated into 18 metrics and performance indicators and measured against a baseline review of 12 housing sites in 2021. The outcomes are “good”, “evolve”, or “improve”.

The analysis, carried out by the ESG consultant Hoare Lea, finds that 80 per cent of land sites are performing at a “good” level in six areas: climate change, mobility, social inclusion, housing access and affordability, empowering communities, and land stewardship.

The Commissioners are praised for various initiatives, including the creation of sustainable urban drainage to prevent flood risk; cycling and pedestrian links; public multifunctional recreational spaces in walking distance of housing; local-policy-compliant affordable housing; multiple community engagement initiatives; and engagement with churches and other stakeholders.

Other metrics in another six areas, however, are graded “evolve” — this includes analysis of different metrics in some of the same areas as above. Refinement is needed, the report says, in creating the least carbon-intensive solutions to builds; safe, convenient, and walkable pedestrian routes; biodiversity net gain across the portfolio; biodiverse habitats; safe, accessible, and functional green spaces within 300 metres of homes; shared community facilities; and a sense of place.

The report says: “We believe we are likely to be performing well across many of these topic areas but were not able to capture this effectively. Our ESG consultant Hoare Lea considers that the ESG KPI’s [key performance indicators] used did not lead to consistent and comparable data capture meaning tangible conclusions on performance could not be drawn.”

Two performance areas are graded “improve”. Intervention or action is required, the report says, on strategic land stewardship, specifically maintaining long-term stewardship and interest in development sites beyond the outline planning application stage. On business ethics and integrity, intervention or action was required on ESG screening of project-team consultants as part of the consultant-selection process, as well as of housebuilders as part of the process of agreement on site-disposal/developer delivery.

The report says: “The topic areas where improvement is required have not previously formed part of our approach to managing the strategic land portfolio. As such it is not surprising that they have been identified as requiring a change of approach. We are looking to focus on these topic areas moving forward, and we are committed to addressing these areas for further improvement and growth.”

The Commissioners’ Head of Strategic Land, Joanna Loxton, said on Tuesday: “With the capacity to deliver 30,000 new homes across England, this strategic land portfolio needs to ensure that in addressing acute housing need across the country we are also striving to address the climate crisis and social injustice across the communities we serve.

“This audit has aided our understanding of the ESG performance of the strategic land portfolio to help us work towards a more sustainable future.”

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