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The role of modular in addressing the UK’s housing crisis

The UK’s housing crisis demands urgent answers and decisive action. The gap between the number of houses currently being built and the number required is alarming and is exacerbating the unaffordable house price issue. Nationwide, housebuilding needs to almost double to hit the government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year by the middle of the next decade.

It is not just a question of picking up the pace of construction, however quickly. The critical point is to deliver affordable housing. In 2017, 70,000 families were forced to live in emergency housing.

This will require political will and innovative thinking. In London, for example, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 844,000 new homes will be needed by 2041 – but that fewer than 54,000 have been built in the previous two years. There is certainty a case to be made in favour of easing construction restrictions on parts of the green belt: not to damage the  integrity of rightly cherished areas of natural beauty, but to consider developing portions of brownfield land which has an arbitrary ‘green’ designation.

This, however, will achieve little if most people continue to be priced out of the market. According to a recent report by the CBRE, barely a quarter of homes built or approved on greenfield land in the past decade are considered affordable under the government’s definition.

There is no easy solution to the affordability problem. But there are compelling reasons to think that modular housing has a part to play.

The UK’s housebuilding industry faces stifling cost pressures. Resources, skills, and materials are in short supply. Last year, for example, research by the Federation of Master Builders found that some small building firms were being told to wait for more than a year for brick orders.

One advantage of modular houses is that they have the potential to save more than a third of the costs of construction. They can cost as little as £125,000 to build – compared to an average of £200,000 using traditional methods. Off-site production allows for materials and components to be purchased in bulk, and the manufacturing methods are far more efficient.

Prefabricated homes can be built in as little as three to four days – and the process is not easily disrupted, for example, by the whims of UK weather conditions.

Today’s prefabricated homes are typically at the highest end of the energy efficiency scale. The use of a repeatable template in their manufacturing helps new forms of renewable energy and heat recovery systems to be widely adopted – and reduces the potential for defects in their replication. In other words, they have turned quality of construction and efficiency into their hallmarks.

What about their desirability? Architects have long held qualms that modular construction constrains design creativity. This may have been a defendable view in the past. But recent technological innovations, such as in 3D modelling, have unleashed a new wave of ingenuity. The result is that modular buildings, large and small, require every bit as much creativity and skill as their traditional counterparts.

We have supplied our own proprietary modular building method to Be First, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s regeneration company. As an example of modular, this is a volumetric manufacturing method, which expedites the assembly of low-energy homes, fitted-out, completed and manufactured offsite using precision methods of engineering to provide robust, high-design, high-quality modular housing.

There is no questioning that investment in modular housing is growing. London’s City Hall has indicated that it is willing to give more funding to modular development. Homes England has also provided financial support for the industry. Earlier this year, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, awarded £11 million from the GLA Innovation Fund to a group of 16 London Boroughs that plan to deliver modular housing as emergency housing for homeless families.

Design challenges remain. If the sector is to reach its potential, modular manufacturers need to do more to foster greater standardisation of their respective building methods – to make modular housing a viable option on a large scale.

It’s important to recognise, however, that in itself modular building is not a panacea. There is a broader framework to be fixed. Finding solutions to the UK’s dearth of affordable housing will require developers and landowners to come together with local councils and communities on a much grander scale. Land urgently needs to be freed up. Reducing the price of constructing homes will not tackle the roots of this crisis if we cannot find affordable land to build them on.

The £500 million increase in the UK’s Housing Infrastructure Fund in the Chancellor’s last Budget is an encouraging step. It is welcome that the funds are being focused on parts of the industry currently better able to build affordable homes, such as the housing associations. But a great deal more needs to be done if we are to make inroads into the estimated £68 billion that needs to be spent, to build 300,000 properties per year required to keep pace with demand. Modular building is a very good start.

Source: Open Access Government

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Families in need moving into modular homes a year earlier

Families awaiting social housing in Northern Ireland will be able to move in a year earlier following a major shake-up in house-building methods.

An entire factory-built modular house can now be erected on pre-prepared foundations in a single day, ready for connection to gas, electricity and water supplies.

Clanmil Housing is working with the McAvoy Group builders to deliver new homes using an innovative off-site housing solution.

Forty on the site of the former Woodside’s foodstore in Carrickfergus in Co Antrim will be the first social homes in Northern Ireland delivered using off-site factory construction, Clanmil said.

They modules will be delivered to the site complete with kitchens, bathrooms, windows, flooring and decorated walls.

The £6.2 million housing scheme, a mix of family houses and apartments for active older people, is being built by Clanmil with the assistance of £3.1 million grant support from the Department for Communities.

The new homes, each made up of a number of steel-framed modules, will be manufactured and fully fitted-out by McAvoy in its Lisburn factory before being craned into position on site.

The construction method will reduce the build time for the Carrickfergus development by 56 weeks compared to traditional site-based building, delivering 40 new homes in just nine months.

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “The UK’s housing shortfall is only going to be addressed by radical innovation in building practices, such as modular housing.

This method of construction has real potential to help address the current housing shortage

David Orr

“This method of construction has real potential to help address the current housing shortage.

“In the UK, the Government sees off-site manufacture as a huge opportunity and has promised to support housing providers to build more homes in this way.

“It is really exciting to see a Northern Ireland housing association and a Northern Ireland manufacturer working together to harness innovation that can deliver homes in up to half the normal time.”


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Modular homes – the future of the British construction industry?

Last week the Government called for a more innovative approach to solving Britain’s housing shortage and is backing modern methods of construction, such as modular homes, to speed up housing delivery. The Government is calling on councils to set their own design quality standards and use virtual reality technology to win round communities and end ‘not in my backyard’ attitudes.

Factory-built modular homes could therefore be the future for the British construction industry – which is experiencing a slow but steady growth in the number of companies delivering pre-built modular housing.

One company aiming big is newly launched ILKE Homes – which aims to deliver 2,000 precision-engineered modular houses and low-rise flats to the UK market every year after recently setting up a factory in Harrogate. It’s modular homes can be built in half the time of brick-built houses and are capable of achieving zero carbon emissions. ILKE has been created by builders Keepmoat with the modular manufacturing firm Elliott – and it expects the current Yorkshire factory to grow staff numbers from 150 to 800 in the next 12 months.

ILKE Homes CEO Bjorn Conway said of the work they’re doing: ”Our mission is to address the UK’s chronic shortfall in affordable housing, creating consistently high-quality, energy-efficient modular homes at scale, to the people that need them most. The showrooms we have on display at a site in Doncaster are examples of affordable and private market properties that can be delivered for our partners like Keepmoat Homes. Using precision engineering and inspiring design, we look forward to working with our partners to create homes for families across the UK.”

The UK’s largest modular private residential development set to be built in Slough has recently been given planning permission – which follows a £600m investment from the ‘Heart of Slough’ regeneration scheme. With great connectivity to London – boosted by the arrival of Crossrail next year – the site will see 238 new apartments including 50 affordable homes, all set for completion next year. Building on the site wont start until October, and due to the off-site building methods installation of the units will take just 10 weeks!

Click Properties, the developer behind the project, said: ”Slough is undergoing a renaissance, making it a fantastic place to live and work. Our apartments will provide high-spec housing for a growing population, helping to meet the increased demands for homes.”

Another getting involved in the modular revolution is award-winning architect Richard Hywell Evans, who has created a prototype home for the modular housing brand nHouse. nHouse is hoping to sell to developers and housing associations, or individuals who want to build their own homes. The company has a new factory in Peterborough, where there’s a show home to display how the high-tech sustainable buildings can work. Whilst presenting early concepts for the design at MIPIM Richard Hywel Evans said ”We had a strong interest in our product which gave us the confidence to move on to the next level.”

With the need for housing increasing in the UK it’s clear that new innovative ways to develop homes to a high-quality quicker is needed. It’s likely to form part of the discussion on our housing panel at the Oxford Cambridge Corridor Economic Growth Conference where, if potential opportunities are unlocks to grow the economy, needs to see a large volume of additional housing built over the next 10-15 years to accommodate the growth.

Source: Built Environment Networking