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Published by Politics Home
Improving the number and quality of new houses is one of the most important challenges we face. If we are going to meet the government’s target of building 200,000 new properties a year, radical new ways of designing and delivering new homes will be required.
Great progress has been made since the recession to increase the construction of new homes, but the number of completions last year was still only 130,000. The Housing and Planning Bill, which has been introduced by the government to improve the supply of affordable homes to rent and buy, is a positive step forward, but more bold steps need to be taken.
One of the solutions could have been provided by Rogers, Stirk, Harbour and Partners – the architectural firm behind Terminal 5 and the Millennium Dome. Famous for their big ticket projects, the firm are also the pioneering force behind off-site manufactured housing – a zero-waste, energy-efficient technology that brings prefabrication into the 21st Century. Their recently completed Y: Cube project in Mitcham, South London is a shining example of why factory-built, modular housing units – which can be built and assembled in as little as two weeks – could be an exciting concept for the future.
Within 12 months of planning being submitted, each of Y: Cube’s 36 studio flats had tenants living in them – close to a third of the time this would have taken with a traditional build. What’s more, with a construction cost per unit of under £30,000, the local authority is able to rent them to people on their housing list for £150 per week – 65% of the local market rate. Their design and excellent insulation also keeps energy costs down as low as £10 a month. This is a massively different proposition from the costs and lead times associated with delivering new homes or other forms of temporary accommodation.
The biggest advantage of this technology is that the units are fully deployable. They can be placed on land owned by local authorities, the MOD or Transport for London – or on plots that are not attractive to commercial developers – for a time and then moved elsewhere, without scuppering the land for long-term development. This is vital as it unlocks land earmarked for future use, or which it isn’t currently economical to develop, enabling it to be utilised for housing in the immediate term.
Off-site manufactured housing by itself is not the silver bullet that will solve all of the country’s housing needs, but it does have the potential to compliment what the government is trying to achieve with this new legislation. Ministers should look at how the development of this exciting technology can be supported and at ways of incentivising the construction of new homes using this method. Given the low-level of disruption that such builds cause, examining whether off-site manufactured units could be fast-tracked through planning could be a great place to start.