Offsite manufacturing has been touted a lot in the last year or so as a potential silver bullet for the UK’s housing crisis.
We’ve all heard about how housebuilding is well behind government targets – and we’ve also heard a lot, since Mark Farmer’s Modernise or Die report, that the industry desperately needs to change its ways and become more efficient if it is to survive.
Well, the London Assembly has seemingly heeded Mr Farmer’s call, arguing that offsite manufacturing has the potential to deliver the 50,000 new homes that London needs each year to meet demand.
It has called on mayor of London Sadiq Khan to “provide clear and strong leadership in raising the awareness of offsite manufacturing’s potential”, as well as working towards adopting a Manufactured Housing Design Code, to ensure that the quality of those homes manufactured offsite lives up to the required standards.
Intriguingly, too, the London Assembly’s report, Designed, sealed, delivered: The contribution of offsite manufactured homes to solving London’s housing crisis, also recommends that the mayor look at the potential of using land owned by Transport for London to stimulate the housing sector – such as encouraging that new housing development on TfL land be delivered using offsite methods.
This is sensible. One of the issues around making offsite viable is that it needs a sufficient volume of demand to ensure that the factories have enough business going through them.
With TfL’s huge amount of land, and the proposed amount of development to be built on, it’s a perfect opportunity for the public sector to back offsite housebuilding with certainty of supply.
Further, the London Assembly also suggested that the mayor could set up an offsite-specific procurement framework for the capital, helping risk-averse lenders to find approved offsite developers and contractors.
All of these suggestions seem pretty sensible to me.
After all, the current model of housebuilding just isn’t delivering the number of homes we need across the country, never mind just in London.
Position of power
The mayor’s unique position gives him the power to radically change how housing is delivered in London, giving the whole sector a boost that would benefit other areas of the country, too.
As Mr Farmer said: “This timely report sends an unequivocal message to the mayor of London that now is the time to show strong political leadership to establish a mainstream precision manufactured housing market in the capital.
“It could underpin ambitions not just for housing, but wider economic growth.”
Indeed it could. Offsite manufacturing has come a long way from the days of derided pre-fabs.
Let’s use technology, backed by public-sector support, to alleviate the UK’s housing shortage.