Modular off-site building could be the solution to the UK’s housing crisis

Modular off-site building could be the key to solving the UK’s broken housing market, according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Modular off-site building could be the key to solving the UK’s broken housing market, according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The UK House Building: Manufacturing Affordable Quality Homes report is calling on Government to provide more incentives for the off-site construction of homes. The report also recommends that the Government reverse policies which discourage the construction of quality, sustainable housing and that more work should be done to diversify UK house building, by opening up opportunities to self-builders, local authorities and housing associations.

Dr Tim Fox, Lead Author of the report and Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“The UK is in the middle of an acute housing crisis. Current annual construction levels are typically less than half of the estimated 250,000 new homes this country needs built every year through to at least the 2030s.

“The new Government needs to demonstrate real ambition, leadership and innovation, not make small piecemeal changes, if it is going to solve the UK’s housing crisis. Overhauling the way the UK constructs homes could be the quickest and most effective way of doing this.

“Off-site construction technologies have advanced greatly in recent years and can offer shorter build times, better quality, better energy efficiency, less waste, and lower costs for buyers.

“Government should also provide incentives to encourage self-builders, local authorities and housing associations to build more homes and introduce regulation to discourage builders from building small dwellings with poor energy efficiency and environmental performance.

“People living in the UK deserve affordable quality homes and it is about time that consumers had more say on the quality, design and size of their homes. Self-build is one very effective route to achieving this.”

The report calls for the Government to introduce a comprehensive housing market reform programme aimed at growing the self-build sector, supported by UK-based off-site manufacturers, to supply at least 50% of market demand (125,000 homes a year in England) by 2030.

The key recommendations in the report are:

1.Government should support investment in the UK supply chain for off-site construction technologies. The current off-site industry needs support for innovation and expansion and needs the people and facilities to compete against imports, if it is to meet the demand for its products that will come from clients focused on long-term quality and value. Government should help develop the skills and infrastructure required to grow this sector, which will not only help repair the UK’s broken housing supply market, but create jobs and deliver economic benefit for the nation.

2.Government must reverse policies that are working against improvements in quality and standards. Building Regulations and planning policies should prioritise long-term sustainability and affordability by setting progressive and challenging standards for energy and resource efficiency, through life-cycle assessment. Instead of ‘winding down’ the Code for Sustainable Homes, Government should be championing its further development, and fully integrating its principles into Building Regulations.

3.Government should work much harder to diversify the UK housing supply market, by opening up much greater opportunities for self-builders, local authorities and housing associations. By 2020, there should be at least as many houses built by these players as are constructed by the traditional commercial building companies (125,000 a year in England). By 2030, self-builders alone should be achieving this annual level of completion. Government should recognise that the step change in ambition required, needs far more commitment and imagination than the welcome, but inadequate, £30m for self-build schemes announced in 2011; the need is for a fundamental restructuring of supply and there is an opportunity for New Garden Cities to lead the way.

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