A modern approach to solving the housing crisis

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According to analysis by the Resolution Foundation, the independent British think tank which aims to improve the standard of living for low income families, the ratio between housing stock and family units is at its lowest point since records began in 1991, with just 825 for every 1000 families across the country. The Foundation said that the fall, relative to the housing stock ratio in 1998, was equivalent to one million missing homes.

A more recent report by homeless charity Shelter estimates 277,000 people are homeless in England, most commonly because they have lost their privately rented accommodation. The report revealed that the Government must build over three million houses if it is to solve the UK’s housing crisis. As a result, pressure is mounting on housing associations, local authorities and developers to build new homes quickly and cost effectively to alleviate the problem.

Shelter is urging ministers to invest £214m over 20 years to create 1.27 million homes for those in greatest housing need, 1.17 million homes for younger families and 690,000 homes for the elderly private renters. That works out at 3.13 million new homes over the next two decades, or just over 150,000 each year.

These figures may seem daunting, especially when you consider that only 1400 new social homes were built in 2017/18 – down from almost 40,000 in 2010. If anything, it looks increasingly likely that the UK housing crisis won’t be solved by traditional build programmes alone.

This uncertainty creates a unique opportunity for modern methods of construction, namely offsite and modular, to meet demand and, fortunately, a blueprint for creating thousands of new ‘offsite homes’ each year does exist. In fact, it has already been achieved with worker accommodation at Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, where a modular approach created accommodation for around 1500 people in only 51 weeks.

The £55m contract to develop the modular accommodation units was awarded to Caledonian in partnership with Laing O’Rourke and included designing, building and delivering 3-star hotel style modules for key workers; with each unit providing living space for one person, with a bedroom, bathroom and lounge.

Manufactured to permanent building standards at our Newark facility, in at least half the time it would have taken had they been constructed traditionally, the scale and speed of project delivery was only achievable through offsite construction. The modules were delivered to site up to 96% complete, including external cladding and all en-suite rooms fully fitted-out. Each of the buildings took just six weeks to complete once on site.

Main contractor Laing O’Rourke provided the infrastructure works, including the concrete pad foundations, which support the hot-rolled steel frame, based on loadings provided by our engineers. The modules were positioned on site using a mobile crane and the installation rates were between six to eight modules per day.

Quality homes

As well as a demand for more housing, there is a call for new legislation to improve the quality of new homes in England by The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA). The proposals would force ministers to make sure that all new housing meets 10 quality, safety and place making ‘principles’, which the organisation claims constitutes a ‘decent’ home.

The call for this new legislation is a response to research TCPA undertook with University College London (UCL), which in one case study found that a two-bed flat built using permitted development had only one small window.

Offsite was chosen as the preferred method of construction for the accommodation units at Hinkley due to a greater understanding of the benefits, which includes quality assurance, shorter construction schedule, less waste and fewer deliveries to site. Manufactured in a quality controlled environment, like our Newark-based facility, means that the modules are highly engineered under factory conditions that are pre-finished with MEP services, decorative finishes, furniture and floor coverings, minimising the need for onsite works and delivering a consistently higher quality of finish.

In addition, offsite offers better airtightness, improved thermal efficiency, with lower running costs and less maintenance, as well as minimal disruption to the surrounding community by ensuring rapid build and significantly reducing deliveries and activities on site. At Hinkley alone, it was calculated that there were 90% fewer deliveries to site compared to traditional construction methods.

Manufacturing offsite creates a safer workplace requiring less need for working at height. Modular is also more economical and kinder to the environment, with a dramatic reduction in waste and the consumption of materials such as cement, compared to traditional build methods.

The answer?

A survey of the top 50 largest housebuilders this year found that the sector built a total of just 4667 homes using modern methods of construction in 2017/18 (equivalent to three Hinkleys). This represents just over 10% of the total and a tiny fraction of the three million-plus homes that the Government needs to deliver.

The key to ensuring a faster uptake of offsite construction is communicating the fact that there has been a revolution in the sector, specifically in the area of design and standardised details, which reduces overall design fees and results in a more predictable construction programme. Advances in BIM, Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) and lean manufacturing have driven these improvements. Latest modular building systems can achieve programme savings of up to 50% or more compared with traditional forms of construction.

It is clear that a key solution to ending the housing crisis is opting for offsite and modular as the preferred method of construction, which will deliver greater volumes of high quality, much needed housing and result in achieving positive changes to the levels of homelessness across the UK sooner.

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