Britain set for new wave of prefabs to help tackle housing crisis
The Telegraph, by Ben Riley-Smith
Britain is to get a new wave of prefabs as ministers plan to offer help to build 100,000 ready-made homes to try to solve the housing crisis, the Telegraph has learnt.
In a major strategy shift, the Government has decided to meet its ambitious housing targets by embracing the first new generation of pre-packed homes since the great reconstruction drive that followed the Second World War.
Many of the modern prefabs, now known as “modular homes”, will be aimed at younger Britons to help them on to the housing ladder.
It is understood that a Government white paper expected to be published next month will include measures to encourage banks to lend to small firms that build houses off-site, which are then delivered to a final destination.
Ministers have taken a “huge interest” in 21st-century prefabs after being impressed that some were erected on site in just 48 hours.
While the Communities Department is not expected to set a hard target, government sources said it was hoped that the change would result in more than 100,000 prefabs being built over this parliament.
Gavin Barwell, the housing minister, today confirms that the Government sees a “huge opportunity” in manufacturers building houses off-site as it tries to hit ambitious building targets.
Winston Churchill backed a surge in prefabs that helped families across Britain left homeless after the Blitz.
The homes – designed to last only 10 years but often still habitable for decades longer – came to symbolise Britain’s post-war years but were often also synonymous with poor quality.
However, government sources and industry experts said improvements in technology meant that issues over quality no longer exist.
Theresa May’s Government is attempting to work out how to meet a commitment to build a million new homes by 2020.
House building has lagged behind targets for several years, with proposals delayed while awaiting planning permission and the country facing a manufacturing skills shortage.
Ministers are now convinced ready-made homes – from three-bedroom houses made by factories to simple packed homes constructed on site – should be a key part of their plan.
A government source told The Sunday Telegraph: “The first and most obvious advantage is speeding up the building of housing.” The source added: “There is pretty good evidence that if you did it at scale it is cheaper.”
Ministers are said to be looking at two areas of potential support.
The first is whether the state can provide more direct funding to help firms build new prefabs.
Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, announced a £3 billion “home building fund” last month that offers loans to small firms – seen as a crucial first step inside Whitehall.
The second drive is to convince lenders, who are risk-averse and unwilling to fund the firms making prefabs according to industry experts, to start giving out more loans.
Government sources credit the newfound political support for prefabs with a number of recent ministerial trips to housebuilders leading the charge.
Accord Group, a housing association in the West Midlands, can produce a three-bedroom house from scratch in a day in its factory and has been visited by government figures.
Alan Yates, the company’s executive director of regeneration, said they were initially importing the homes from Norway before starting construction in the UK. “These are really high-quality homes, very well insulated. They are a totally different product from the prefabs after the war,” he said.
Pocket, a London-based firm creating affordable flats for first-time buyers, has had recent visits from Mr Barwell and Mr Javid.
Lucian Smithers, the company’s director, said: “What we need is a renaissance in small- and medium-sized developers making 100, 200 homes at a time. A lot of them were eradicated in 2008 in the financial crash, when many were bought out. … If ministers can help with that it is a great thing.”
Mr Barwell said: “Offsite construction could provide a huge opportunity to increase housing supply and we want to see more innovation like this emulated across the housebuilding sector.”