Can prefab homes solve UK’s housing crisis?

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Can prefab homes solve UK's housing crisis?
Urban Splash’s factory-built homes on the canal at New Islington, Manchester / © PR

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Can prefab homes solve UK's housing crisis?
Urban Splash’s factory-built homes on the canal at New Islington, Manchester / © PR

Modular developments in Manchester and Liverpool are energy efficient and built in quick time, but can they spark national interest?

I’ve always believed there must be a way to get better quality and build quicker,” says Tom Bloxham, chief executive of Urban Splash, a property development company best known for pioneering trendy loft living in Manchester and Liverpool.

With the launch last year of the company’s factory-built homes, shipped to site by lorry, Bloxham thinks he’s found the answer.

Urban Splash is part of a small but growing number of organisations looking to change the way homes are built through the adoption of off-site – also known as modular construction or prefab homes. From businesses to policymakers, there is growing interest in off-site-built housing as a possible solution to the UK’s critical housing shortage.

While timeframes are project dependent, most estimates are that off-site-built homes can be produced in about half the time of traditional construction as the house itself can be built in the factory while foundations are being laid on site. Developers also cite the reduced requirement for scarce skilled labour, fewer construction accidents and more consistent quality of build compared to traditional construction.

There are also sustainability gains to be made. A report by Systemiq and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, launched at Davos last week, highlights several potential environmental benefits from off-site construction, including more energy efficient homes.

So is now the time for off-site construction to hit the mainstream?

Bloxham thinks so, saying production line precision means his homes are both “extraordinarily” airtight, which improves their energy efficiency, and highly customisable. With his 43-home scheme in New Islington, Manchester, all sold and occupied, he is now aiming to ramp up production to several thousand a year. “We’ve shown there’s a demand for it, we’ve shown the quality is really good, and now it’s building the capacity,” he says. […]

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