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Could Modular Housing provide millions of good new homes?

Modular Housing could be the answer to Britain’s housing needs! They are built off-site, enabling quick and fuss-free construction.

On average, house prices in England are seven times people’s incomes, and over a million families with children now rent from private landlords. Could modular housing be part of the solution?

Modular homes are constructed from “modules” that are pre-built off-site in factories. However, Nicky Gavron, former deputy mayor of London and long-time advocate for modular housing, says the recent models are “light years” away from prefab homes of the past. “Now they are precision-engineered, digitally designed, eco-efficient, slashing energy bills and affordable. Not just affordable to build, but to live in.”

Modular technology is quick to assemble, which is why historically it has been used in the military and public sector. This is exactly why the country needs it, Gavron argues.

“The last time we were anywhere near reaching high housing targets was in the late 60s and early 70s, when factory-built homes played their part … some estimates put completion rates at 60 per cent quicker than traditional construction.” She argues that with such need, the traditional model of housebuilding can “only take us so far”.

Another key benefit of modular homes is the ability to use small plots of land that aren’t easily accessible; the homes aren’t built from scratch, reducing the size of the building sites and the number of lorries, mixers and other paraphernalia.

Gavron explained:

“They can now be built at all sorts of densities and for all sorts of sizes of sites and are appropriate for urban areas as they work over constrained sites, such as those over tunnels, utility infrastructure and by railway lines.”

The combination of modular and affordable housing has caught the attention of the Greater London Authority, who provided Pocket with a £21.7m seed fund in 2013 under then mayor Boris Johnson, followed by £25m more under Sadiq Khan. The developer used it to invest in land; “before that money came in, we were reliant on our own equity, meaning we had to sell a scheme to buy another plot of land. You can only do one scheme every couple of years.” Now the company is building over 200 homes a year. Meanwhile, Lewisham Council and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners have three more modular homes projects in the pipeline, one of which has already received planning permission.

It’s clear why this type of construction would appeal to politicians; it’s supposedly as good as a regular build – “to get mortgages, [builds] have to be insurable to the same standards as conventional builds,” points out Smithers – and it’s quick. “They want to see housing, they want to see it fast, and good-quality.”

Gavron thinks yet more political will is needed. “[Modular housing] will only be used more widely if we can crack the issue of scale” she explains. “The industry told me that they are poised for a step- change in delivery. That change is dependent on strong political leadership from all spheres of government acting collaboratively to co-ordinate policy and resources and provide continuity of demand.”

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