Denise Chevin and the Call for Housing Innovators
Updated: Jun 15, 2018
Meeting the growing demand for housing is foremost on the agenda of many European governments, and property prices are steadily rising – in Dublin for instance, prices are 50% higher than their recessional level five years ago. A renaissance in offsite construction, modular homes, volumetric system pods, new digital design processes as well as many other innovations, could well be a major part of the solution.
A recent article by Denise Chevin (“Housing: is offsite really the sector’s panacea?”) for constructionmanagermagazine.com, provides a detailed snapshot of the offsite construction sector in the UK, and many of her findings are promising.
Both conventional consultants and developers like Berkeley Group, Tide Construction, and Ilke Homes (the latter an Elliot Group and Keepmoat joint venture, with targets of 2,000 homes per annum), and more unconventional players like Urban Splash and nHouse, are investing heavily in offsite construction and manufacturing – in everything from multi-million residential developments to exciting new regeneration projects.
Engineering consultants like Aecom are not only investing in modular and other forms of offsite construction, but changing their philosophy of development. There has been, according to Chevin, a shift of emphasis away from construction towards manufacturing, with individualised parts designed offsite.
Moreover, companies have become increasingly more sophisticated in terms of designs, utilising new digital technologies as a means of streamlining the processes. Mark Farmer, author of architectural pamphlet “Modernise or Die” was quoted in Chevin’s article as saying:
'the future-proofed ones are using digital platforms … not the “cottage industry building traditionally in a shed” approach we have been used to'
Chevin also cites the statistics from BOPAS we mentioned here last week that show a growth in accreditation granted – 2017 was double the 2015 level.
There are, as with all methods of construction, some systematic difficulties consultants and developers should be aware of. Chevin argues that it is essential in offsite construction to agree on design in the earlier stages – and one would have to agree with her, it is surely essential to agree on design from the outset when manufacturing en masse? – but this necessitates agreeing on supplier in the earliest possible stage, something Chevin feels may “produce consequent nervousness around security of supply”.
However, while nothing is without obstacles, solutions do exist. Chevin lists two positive developments. Farmer, who is also chief executive of Cast Consultancy, is negotiating with lenders for a more systematic and robust policy of lending to offsite construction companies. Homes England, a public body that provides funding and support to residential developers, are considering allocating a quota of released land to offsite construction.
Whether offsite will become more popular, whether innovation will win or traditional forms of residential construction will prevail, remains to be seen, but we think Chevin’s conclusion is both balanced and optimistic:
“as most in the market agree, if we are to deliver 300,000 new homes a year (UK government target) there’s more than enough room for innovators and traditionalists”.
With governments battling housing shortages, with prices rising, with the need for alternative approaches to residential property growing, we need innovators, and we need innovative solutions more than ever.