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When prefab becomes fab

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LGC’s essential daily briefing on pre-fabricated homes

As a klaxon for impending revolution the wording’s hardly up there with the French revolution’s ”liberty, equality, fraternity“ or indeed the Bolsheviks’ “peace, land, bread”.

However, a decision of the Greater London Authority’s assistant director of housing to commission a consultancy to ”develop a common framework for delivering precision manufactured homes at scale in London” could be a low-key signal of impending revolution in innovation in efforts to ease the housing crisis.

The GLA will pay up to £50,000 to Cast Consult Ltd to “accelerate the process of standardisation” for factories manufacturing modular homes.

“Greater standardisation could reduce the costs associated with precision manufactured homes, by reducing the need for full designs from scratch for every development and bringing down the costs of manufacture as components for a range of suppliers can be manufactured in a single factory,” the GLA said in its online record of the decision.

Prefabs have not been regarded as sexy since the post-war housing boom. And they lost their lustre pretty rapidly. Prefab homes became a symbol of shoddy building standards and undesirable neighbourhoods. 

However, new technology makes innovation possible and the scale of London’s housing crisis makes innovation essential. 

As the GLA states: ”The mayor’s draft new London Plan sets out targets to build around 65,000 new homes a year in London over the next decade in order to address the capital’s housing shortage. While traditional methods of construction will continue to play a vital role in home building, it will not be possible to increase output to the necessary extent by relying on traditional methods alone. ”

The commissioning of the consultancy follows a report by London assembly member Nicky Gavron (Lab), who reported in August that the industry was “light years away” from delivering modular homes at the scale they are needed to meet London’s demand.

She said: “The lack of a single design standard or mass market demand has held back the sector’s growth. This is a once in a generation opportunity to work collaboratively with investors, developers and policy makers at a time where experts, central and local government are all calling for the same thing to happen.”

Cast chief executive Mark Farmer has previously called for the government to promote pre-manufactured housing as one particular way to meet a national additional demand for housing. In his 2016 review, subtitled “modernise or die”, Mr Farmer called on the government to “stimulate” the construction industry by promoting the use of modular housing.

Chief executive of Homes England Nick Walkley recommended the Farmer Review to a room of planning experts last month, adding “we’re still building homes like we did 100 years ago”.

Mr Walkley told a Local Government Association conference: “More work needs to be done to improve the build quality and the acceptability of those homes - there is much more to be done.”

The government responded to the Farmer Review in its 2017 housing white paper, promising to “stimulate the growth” of the house-building sector by promoting alternative methods of house-building.

Sources close to the government indicate that modular housing is seen as just about the only way the government can meet its house building promises. 

It seems prefab has once more become fab.

Robert Cusack, reporter



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