London must lead the housing revolution
The capital’s planning chair Nicky Gavron says factory-built homes are the answer
FROM factory floor to front door, could the capital lead an offsite manufactured housing revolution? As a London politician working on planning, housing and the environment, finding innovative ways to help crack the housing crisis is a top priority. Offsite manufacturing is an exciting new solution and this is what I set out to explore in my London Assembly planning committee report, “Designed, sealed, delivered”.
In the next 20 years, London will need at least 50,000 additional homes annually — but we are building half that. A step change in our approach to housing is required. Traditional construction techniques can only go so far. Offsite manufactured housing, or OSM, is an exciting and innovative way to close the gap between supply and the diverse range of homes Londoners need.
I have been very impressed by what we’ve seen in London, visiting sites and listening to residents. These homes are very high quality, digitally designed, precision-engineered, environmentally friendly and affordable to live in, slashing energy bills by as much as £1,000.
This is a different way of building. The manufactured home components are brought to site from factories outside London and are constructed in weeks, with residents moving in soon after.
Some estimates put completion rates at 60 per cent quicker than traditional construction, with 80 per cent less waste. Truly 21st century homes. This new way of building will create new jobs and skills and attract new recruits into the industry, particularly among young people and women.
As Mark Farmer, author of the Farmer Review on the construction industry, “Modernise or Die”, said: “Future skills in construction may look very different to what we currently see on a building site, and we should be planning ahead for this in London right now.”
This is an exciting proposition for Londoners. The smart building technology produces high-calibre homes that work whether you are a young family, single, or older. They are particularly suitable for first-time buyers and renters at all income levels.
So, why haven’t we seen more of these in London? From my extensive discussions with industry players a complete consensus has emerged, that growth is being held back, above all, by the lack of co-ordinated continuity of demand. If that exists, then the market will respond and volumes will increase. And, if there’s anywhere in the country where there is an evident scale of housing need and an ongoing requirement for new homes for decades to come, it is London.
We need a step change in delivery, and the Mayor is in a unique place to catalyse it. He is already showing support to the sector but we need to go further. The report recommends that he commit public land — particularly Transport for London’s — resources and use his policies in the London Plan and other strategies to incentivise the industry.
Other recommendations include: adopting a manufactured housing design code, creating another round of his Innovation Fund and setting up a specific delivery framework panel of developers and contractors dedicated to OSM, along with an independent advisory panel of experts.
This is a once-in-a-generation chance to work collaboratively with investors, developers and policy makers at a time when experts and government are all calling for the same thing to happen.
The OSM revolution would be a winwin all round and the stakes are too high not to make it one.
Nicky Gavron AM chairs the London Assembly planning committee. Read her report “Designed, sealed, delivered” at london.gov.uk
Left: George Williams Court, Richard Rogers’ Y:Cube in Mitcham, was developed with YMCA London South West to offer 36 singleunit homes at affordable rent
Below: 24 twobedroom flats at PLACE/Ladywell, factory-made in Derbyshire as an interim solution to a social housing shortfall in Lewisham