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Modular housing: is this really the answer to the housing crisis?

Demand for housing is well documented, the skills shortage acknowledged, and construction has much to improve in productivity terms. All correct. So, is offsite modular construction now positioned front and centre as a part of the solution to the UK housing crisis?

Modular housing

I’m joining forces with my colleague Sarah Stevenson, who heads our Social Housing Practice, to create a white paper on the subject.

We are collating contributions from a host of industry professionals, with different perspectives on this topic. We’ll explore the misnomers, and separate fact from fiction in this well-trodden but seldom realised theory that modular construction methods can solve the housing crisis.

"For the last 50 years the private sector has built around 150,000 homes per year, half the Government target of 300,000. When housebuilding was at its peak in the late 1960s around 420,000 homes were built, but almost half of those were built by councils, compared with around 4,000 council-built homes today."  - The Telegraph 

On January 26th 2018 Berkeley Group announced it is to open a manufacturing facility capable of producing over 1,000 units per annum. Discussing the reasons behind the development, Tony Pidgley, Chairman of the Berkeley Group, cited speed of production, impact on the labour and - perhaps most importantly - the quality they can achieve through modular housing.

Gareth Ellison is a long-time advocate of the offsite construction sector who has been involved in delivery of offsite projects across segments including residential and infrastructure, including several Heathrow Airport terminal buildings. He has also lobbyed for modular construction in the residential sector within government departments and at local authority level. He offers the following perspective:

"Modular offsite construction is not new and the benefits in terms of speed, health and safety, quality and performance well extoled. Previous cycles have undermined investment in capacity, however, now there are significant and well financed new entrants. Simultaneously attention should focus demand side to ensure conditions are aligned to scale-up quality modular housing. Importantly, aggregation of demand and commitment of pipeline can realise economies of scale, compel investment, reduce costs and lead to increased viability."

So demand is acute, the benefits clear and bold investments are being made supply side. What then are the barriers to ‘unlocking’ the full potential of offsite modular to help solve the housing crisis add value to the economy? Surely a broader debate demand side is now needed to ensure the cycle is broken - and modular offsite becomes part of mainstream UK housing supply.

Keep an eye out for our upcoming white paper. To be the first to receive a copy or if you'd like to contribute, please provide your details here.


Rob Smith is the Principal of Infrastructure, Business & Support Services. 

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