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Will an increase in modular homes help with the housing crisis?

Of course everyone has been talking about Modern Methods of Construction for a long time, but in the past few months it’s really been ramping up as they say.

A host of events and Government time (where it’s not Brexit-dominated) are focused around modular construction, and its potential to quickly and efficiently deliver the homes the UK is desperate for.

Largely due to Brexit uncertainty, the September Glenigan Housing report for the three months to August was more disappointing reading, showing a “marked weakening in private developments and social housing starts.”

This is the traditional market however, and probably doesn’t reflect the potential of the modular housing coming through.

It’s also going to require intervention from Government to make it happen

James Parker James Parker Editor of Housebuilder and Developer

Using containers

I attended UK Construction Week at the NEC this week, and one of the most prominent stands as you entered the show was from the China International Marine Containers Group (CIMC).

Repurposing container technology for construction projects, they have already provided several commercial sector projects in the UK, and are moving into residential.

A company with this kind of capacity could quite easily erect container-based residential projects all over the UK.

Japan’s biggest housebuilder, Sekisui, has engaged in a joint venture with our modular-friendly UK Government which is expected to see thousands of homes built.

Modular towers

Two towers are currently under construction in Croydon to a design by HTA Design, at 38 and 44 storeys the tallest yet to be built using modular methods, and containing 546 flats.

Berkeley Homes is following housing association Swan Housing and L&G, by building its own modular factory, in Kent.

However what is happening at the more ‘mainstream’ level? Are traditional housebuilders letting go of traditional methods and embracing modular methods?

It means an entire change of not only building itself, but also supply chain, and change is happening slowly, where it is happening.

According to a report by law firm Pinsent Masons, only around 15,000 homes built of the roughly 200,000 homes currently built in the UK are modular, so we are lagging behind other leading countries.

Grim reading

Data from the Office for National Statistics has just been released which makes grim reading for the housebuilding sector, given the target of 300,000 homes per year.

The ONS estimates that 844,000 new homes will be needed in London alone by 2041 – but fewer than 54,000 have been built in the previous two years.

Year on year, new private housing work was up by 4 per cent, but August was down by a not inconsiderable 0.9 per cent on the previous month.

And there have been calls for Right to Buy to be reviewed, after the Ministry for Housing revealed that the number of public housing starts fell by 8 per cent year on year.

Pushing forward

If this slow downturn in output continues, modular has to be actively pushed forward if we are going to get anywhere near hitting the numbers needed.

It’s going to be a case of no pain, no gain for many private sector housebuilders – offsite is more expensive.

However it’s also going to require intervention from Government to make it happen across the sector, as currently builders will only build at the rate they can sell – what are their direct incentives to do things differently?

It’s going to take a leap of faith for many smaller housebuilders, if they’re not given a safety net.

James Parker is editor of Housebuilder and Developer