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Affordable homes to be built on site of former sports club

Work is under way to build 48 new affordable homes on the site of the former Barton Lane Sports and Recreation Club in Eccles, Salford, which had sat unoccupied since November 2016.

ForHousing is transforming the disused site at Barton Lane into 48 modern apartments for affordable rent, comprising 24 one-bedroom and 24 two-bedroom homes.

The landlord owns and manages 24,000 homes across the North West of England, in Fylde, Knowsley, Oldham and Salford, and provides housing management services on behalf of Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Mangrove Estates is the developer on the site with Watson Homes responsible for the build and Grays Architecture leading on the scheme design.

Nigel Sedman, group director of homes said: “It’s really good news that the Barton Lane development has started on site.

“It will provide greatly needed affordable homes for 120 people and takes our investment into new homes in Eccles to over £20m.”

He added: “At ForHousing we are committed to building high-quality homes, stronger neighbourhoods and working together with tenants to make more things possible for more people.

“In the North West we have developed over 900 new homes to date across a mix of tenures and will be building a further 540 by 2020.”

The Barton Lane development is part funded by a £1.68m grant from Homes England. It is earmarked for completion by Winter 2020.

By Neil Hodgson

Source: The Business Desk

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More than a million homes could be built on brownfield land – campaigners

More than a million homes could be built on brownfield land, helping to meet housing demand and regenerate towns and cities, campaigners say.

A new analysis of councils’ brownfield land registers by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) suggests there is space for a million homes on suitable sites which were previously built on and now sit derelict or vacant.

Two-thirds of the potential new homes are on sites which are “shovel ready” and are deliverable within five years, so they could make an immediate contribution to meeting housing need, the analysis suggests.

CPRE argues that prioritising the brownfield land which councils have shown is suitable for development will provide more homes and transform run-down areas.

And it will prevent the unnecessary loss of countryside and greenfield sites for housing, the campaign group said.

With more than 120,000 potential new homes added to the registers across England in the last year alone, brownfield land could continue to provide a steady pipeline of new housing, CPRE said.

Building on brownfield land presents a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously remove local eyesores and breathe new life into areas crying out for regeneration

Rebecca Pullinger, CPRE

But it warned that the definition of the land available for residential development for the registers may be missing opportunities to make better use of existing developed sites – meaning more homes could be provided.

And the assumptions for the density of housing on a site are low, so that increasing the number of properties built on brownfield could help councils make the best use of the space and deliver more homes, the charity said.

The analysis shows 18,277 sites identified across the country with 1,077,292 potential new homes – of which 634,750 homes are deliverable within five years.

London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield have identified suitable previously-developed land which could provide almost half a million homes.

CPRE is calling for the Government to introduce a genuine “brownfield first” policy which ensures suitable previously-developed or under-used land is prioritised for housing over green spaces and countryside.

And clearer definitions and guidelines are needed for the registers to be a better pipeline of sites, identifying all brownfield areas and recording their suitability for uses other than housing, including protecting their wildlife or heritage value where appropriate, it urged.

Rebecca Pullinger, planning campaigner at CPRE, said: “Building on brownfield land presents a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously remove local eyesores and breathe new life into areas crying out for regeneration.

“It will help to limit the amount of countryside lost to development, and build more homes in areas where people want to live, with infrastructure, amenities and services already in place.”

She added: “Councils have worked hard to identify space suitable for more than one million new homes.

“But until we have a brownfield first approach to development, and all types of previously developed land are considered, a large number of sites that could be transformed into desperately needed new homes will continue to be overlooked.

“The Government, local councils and house builders must work hard to bring these sites forward for development and get building.”

Housing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “This Government is committed to building the homes our country needs while still leaving the environment in a better state than we found it.

“We’re encouraging planners to prioritise building on brownfield land and working with local authorities to ensure sensible decisions are made on where homes get built.”

Source: iTV

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‘Our towns must expand to thrive’: Shropshire Council says green belt homes are a necessary evil

The prospect of building on the county’s green belt has provoked significant criticism – but Shropshire Council says it is ready to defend the plans as the best way of tackling issues faced by towns.

Plans for thousands of homes in Shropshire are vital to stop the decline of communities and ensure controlled development.

That is the message given today by the man in charge of a ‘preferred sites’ consultation for work up until 2036.

Shropshire Council planning expert Adrian Cooper says the plan for 28,750 new homes is the only way to protect communities from speculative developers, and to prevent towns falling into decline.

He said: “There is a reason – we are not just doing this because we want to upset people. We are doing it to stave off a worse outcome.”

All of Shropshire’s towns and villages feature in the plan, which varies from the modest to the large scale plans for hundreds of homes in both Shifnal and Bridgnorth.

Mr Cooper, the council’s planning policy and strategy manager, said that the impact of a lack of affordable housing was affecting communities across the county, and particularly Bridgnorth, and having a knock on effect on employers and the availability of jobs.

He said: ““If we do not make provision for business to remain and grow and expand and attract and retain employees then they will move and that’s really harmful because it exacerbates existing issues you have in towns like Bridgnorth.”

Green belt homes ‘a necessary evil’

Campaign groups in Bridgnorth and Shifnal have been outraged by Shropshire Council plans for development, with sections of green belt earmarked for future development and the prospect of more than 28,000 new homes.

Permission to build on the green belt is only allowed in exceptional circumstance – something campaigners have insisted does not exist – but a senior council official has moved to defend the plans, particularly in relation to Bridgnorth.

Under Shropshire Council’s preferred sites consultation, land across the county is allocated for where houses and businesses can built up until 2036. The plans are yet to be fully approved by the council and there will be another round of consultation.

It also needs to be approved by a government inspector.

For Bridgnorth a large section of green belt at Stanmore is being allocated for development after 2036, and areas are also included in Shifnal.

The choice has sparked a strong reaction from campaigners who have vowed to resist the proposals.

Mr Cooper said: “In both Shifnal and Bridgnorth the difficulties for some areas is it is in the green belt – somewhere people do not expect to see development and it is more difficult to justify that outcome.

“We say in both cases there is a strong argument in the case of intervention because if you do not do something there are some real risks those places will decline, lose employment opportunities, housing will decline and a whole section of the community risks being disenfranchised over decades.”

Asked about the attitude towards building on the green belt Mr Cooper said: “The way government policy works is no, you should not be looking at it.

“We need to produce good reasons and evidence to justify the outcome.”

Policy will help prevent decline

The planning manager said the council believes the policy is necessary to prevent the decline of the area.

He also said other options for providing the housing in other areas had been looked at and discounted.

He said: “Local circumstances are such that if we do not do something that is being proposed, in effect that outcome justifies the change because you can already see evidence of negative impact, of businesses relocating, local employers being restricted, wage level being relatively poor, affordable housing being limited and all of the social outcomes that come from those changes.

“You could take it and put it in another town. Shrewsbury or a different set of sites that are not in the green belt. What we are saying is we have looked at those options and this is, as far as we are concerned, the best way to tackle the issues Bridgnorth faces in the long term. And we therefore think it is justified to do that. We accept there will be differences of opinion and expect there to be.”

Mr Cooper also said there was pressure from local employers over the need to provide homes for potential workers – a claim which has been questioned by Bridgnorth campaigners.

He said: “In particular in Bridgnorth, local employers are really struggling to retain employees. There are not houses for people on the wages they pay.”

Asked if companies had come forward to raise their concern Mr Cooper said: “Yes, through things like the chamber of commerce and the LEP, these are what spurred the concerns.

“This is an issue that pertains to the local economy in Bridgnorth

“We have had a situation in recent years where we have lost businesses, they have chosen to relocate into Telford or the West Midlands because either they could not get enough space to expand and they needed the space to stay where they were.

“Part of that mix is also access to staff, and it is a bit of a vicious circle and has informed why we have chosen to intervene in the way we have with the local plan.

“Because if we do not make provision for business to remain and grow and expand and attract and retain employees then they will move and that’s really harmful because it exacerbates existing issues you have in Bridgnorth which are about limited employment opportunities for a town of its size and people travelling out of town for work.”

Mr Cooper also said that some of the development which has taken place in Shifnal is the result of not having a plan, and that they are seeking an organised approach to ensure associated infrastructure is built.

He said: “Much of the development in Shifnal now was not planned. It was not in the local development plan. It happened because you do not have five years of housing land set aside so the industry was able to argue it should be able to build on land in Shifnal that had not been allocated for that purpose.”

Source: Shropshire Star

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Another £250m will go towards building new homes in England

The UK government has announced another £250m for building desperately-needed new homes across England.

A new round of housing deals is the latest in a series of steps taken by the government as it strives towards its goal of building 300,000 new homes each year.

As part of this, £157m will be invested for new infrastructure in Cumbria and Devon, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said.

The money will pay for a new motorway link between south Carlisle and the M6, unlocking up to 10,000 new homes at St Cuthbert’s Garden Village.

In Devon, £55m will be spent on road improvements and other infrastructure so 2,500 homes can be built to the south-west of Exeter.

In addition, 1,500 homes will be built in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park following a £78m loan from Homes England.

The loan is part of the government’s £4.5bn Home Building Fund, which provides development and infrastructure finance to home builders.

The first phase of the development is expected to end in summer 2021, with full completion by 2028, the MHCLG said.

The UK is currently facing its biggest housing shortfall on record, with a backlog of almost 4 million homes, according to research by Heriot-Watt University.

James Brokenshire, communities secretary, said: “We delivered 222,000 homes last year, which is the highest number in a decade, but we must keep upping our game.

“We are invoking the spirit of Britain’s post-war push to build as we strive to hit our target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s, for the first time since the days of Harold Macmillan.

“By investing in infrastructure, freeing up public sector land and offering targeted loans we are making the housing market work.

“These deals struck today will help us build almost 25,000 more homes – which is another symbolic step towards our homebuilding targets.”

A new partnership by Homes England will create 10,000 properties on Ministry of Defence land on seven military bases – with the potential for surplus army land to be used in the future.

Tobias Ellwood, minister for defence, people and veterans, said: “As we work to make our military bases more modern and efficient, it’s important that former MOD land is used in a way which serves local residents and the economy.

“This new partnership underlines our commitment to helping housebuilding in this country and will provide good value for money to taxpayers.”

Sites will be developed at bases RAF Henlow, MOD Site 4, Swynnerton Training Camp, Claro and Deverell Barracks, MDPGA Wethersfield, Prince William of Gloucester Barracks and Chetwynd Barracks.

Source: Yahoo Finance UK

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New homes target threatened by labour shortage, say industry bosses

The Scottish Government could struggle to meet its target to build 50,000 homes by 2021 due to a lack of workers, industry bosses have suggested.

At the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee was told the impact of Brexit, as well as large projects in England, had reduced the number of people available to work on projects.

Concerns were raised by a panel of construction sector leaders that the reduction, combined with too few young people entering the industry, could lead to an insufficient number of Scottish workers being available to build new housing.

Unite the union’s Steven Dillon suggested that following the completion of large projects in Scotland such as the Queensferry Crossing and the Aberdeen bypass, workers have been making the move to England in search of work.

The workers are critical no matter what you do because it’s not going to be built using a computer

Steven Dillion, Unite the union

Mr Dillon said: “One of the biggest problems we’re going to have with building houses is the labour market.

“There’s a lot of major problems starting in England, such as HS2 and Hinkley Point, and it’s going to drain the Scottish economy of crafts people.

“That’s one of the major concerns this committee should have. We’re going to have a skills shortage when the contract on HS2 takes off.

“The amount of Scottish workers that have moved down to Hinkley Point … you need to look at that if you’re talking about building these houses.

“It may be a case of boosting apprentice numbers, for example, so that we can build these houses.

“The workers are critical no matter what you do because it’s not going to be built using a computer.”

Hew Edgar, interim head of UK policy for  the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in Scotland, indicated the availability of large projects could help to attract and retain workers.

“The Queensferry Crossing was a great piece of work,” said Mr Edgar.

“It was what we would consider a mega-project. The problem in Scotland now is that we don’t have a mega-project to look forward to.

“So the talent and the labour force that was attracted to Scotland to work on this project have now left to seek employment.

“It would be prudent of the Scottish Government to ensure that there’s a pipeline of mega-projects or large-scale projects that would entice talent to come to Scotland and work and also to remain”.

Ian Rogers, Scottish Decorators Federation chief executive, said the UK’s departure from the EU would also cause problems for the sector with fewer workers from Europe being available.

He also suggested the construction industry would be forced to compete with other sectors, including retail and the hotel trade, in attracting new apprentices.

“We’re now looking at Brexit as a no-deal possibly,” Mr Rogers said.

“That is going to stop the inflow of labour because it won’t meet the government’s minimum wage criteria in some areas.”

“We’ll then be fishing in a pond that everybody’s fishing in for apprentices.”

Simon Rawlinson, of Arcadis, representing the Construction Leadership Council, said: “I think it’s important that the committee recognises that the supply chain and the labour force involved in the delivery of housing is almost completely different to the supply chain that is involved in the delivery of large civil engineering projects.”

Source: BT

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Why hasn’t modular housing taken off yet?

Modular has long been hailed as a solution to a housing crisis that has left workers in England and Wales needing to fork out eight times their annual income to buy a house, according to ONS data published in 2018.

The homes are quick to assemble and are cost-efficient, they are built to last and they leave a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional housing. Off-site construction also means fewer builders are required, which solves another problem facing the industry – a shortage of skilled workers.

Last week Birmingham City Council proudly announced that they were to build the city’s first council-built modular home, yet in other countries, modular houses already make up a significant proportion of homes, with around 84% of homes prefabricated in Sweden using timber elements.

So why aren’t modular homes more popular in the UK?

Past misconceptions

Three million new social homes must be built in England over the next two decades to solve the crisis, according to a January report by the charity Shelter. At least 1.2 million homes are needed for younger families, who can’t afford to buy and face a lifetime in expensive – and insecure – private renting.

One of the key issues is that when we hear the term module housing, we often think of the prefabricated homes that were erected to address the post-Second World War housing shortage.

From spring 1946, more than 156,000 pre-fab houses were erected across the UK in record time as a temporary solution envisaged to last no longer than ten years. The houses were typically bungalows and while much-loved by residents, were built in a style which gained a bad reputation for being low quality and unsightly.

Although a few are still standing – a testament to their construction – the homes are poorly constructed by today’s standards.

‘As for the “pre-fab” image, modular homes have very little in common with the inter-war “homes for heroes”‘ says Jessie Wilde, relationships & projects manager at the Bristol Housing Festival.

‘Today’s modular homes are precision-manufactured, energy-efficient homes with high levels of quality control,’ he adds. ‘Their construction methods are more sustainable than traditional methods and modern factories can offer better working environments than building sites.’

Luke Barnes, CEO at Ideal Modular Homes, adds: ‘Some people may have a misconception of modular from post-war homes. However, since the 1940’s there have been major advancements in technology and building materials.

‘Here at Ideal Modular homes, all our properties surpass building regs standards, are precision built in just 5 days and to an unmatched level of quality,’ he says.

Although modern modular homes look nothing like their previous incarnations, some people fear factory-built housing would leave families living in tiny, “identikit” homes. Traditionally, too, homes in the UK have been built with brick or stone rather than wood, which is often used to construct modular housing.

Tackling the ‘change averse’ planning system

There are also challenges when it comes to off-site construction. More money is required upfront to invest in the factories required to build homes, which can deter developers, and they are also costly to run. Factories that create modular housing require economies of scale, but the industry is relatively small (compared to Sweden, for example). There is also a more general fear of change when it comes to replacing the more “traditional” system of house-building.

‘Like anything made on a production line, the modules can be made quickly in high volume and to a quality standard at a low cost,’ says Nick Fulford, CEO of modular housing brand nHouse. ‘As a result many people, including the UK government, see volume modular housing as the solution to supplying enough housing in the UK and improving quality levels.

‘Until recently the modular housing industry was held back by a lack of innovative house designs, inexperience in how to make factories work, an unsupportive mortgage and lending sector and negativity from local planners,’ he adds.

Most local planners are very conservative and ‘change averse’, Fulford says, adding they thought modular homes would be of poor quality and design.

‘Until recently companies have struggled because the experience wasn’t there, the designs were not right, the mortgages were not available and the amount of capital investment to set up a factory is substantial,’ he adds.

Wheels slowly turning

Things are now changing, albeit slowly. Last year, Berkeley Homes announced their aim to build 1,000 modular homes a year out of their new factory in Ebbsfleet, Kent. The insurance giant Legal & General opened their factory in Leeds in 2016, with the aim of producing 4,000 modular homes a year.

Modular homes have been planned for Bristol too, Wilde adds. ‘Modular build is used on constrained and unconventional sites because units can be lowered in by crane. For example, ZEDpod modular homes, exhibited at the Bristol Housing Festival launch, are designed for land outside the development plan such as existing car parks and hard standings.

‘Last October, Bristol City Council committed to investing in six rapid-build, modular homes from ZED Pods. The ZEDpods will be offered to people in housing crisis later this year, subject to planning.’

‘New companies like nHouse have joined the industry offering high-quality homes. There are now around 20 factories up and running and the industry is gaining in experience, the BOPAS accreditation scheme means that main lenders like Natwest and Santander are offering mortgages and the UK government has really got behind ‘modern methods of construction’ like modular.’

The Buildoffsite Property Assurance scheme (BOPAS) is a risk-based evaluation which demonstrates to funders, lenders, valuers and purchasers that homes built from non-traditional methods and materials will stand the test of time for at least 60 years.

Moreover, people who want to own their own homes – and who have been priced out of the property market – are less interested in how their houses are built. It’s more about whether they will last and suit their needs and tastes.

‘With billions now being invested the UK government would like our industry to supply around 60,000 homes a year within a decade,’ Fulford says. ‘So it’s going to be much more common to see all sorts of modular homes around Britain.’

Source: Environment Journal

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There’s only one way to fix the housing crisis: build more

From free marketeers on the right to proponents of central planning on the left, cries to fix Britain’s broken housing market have become deafening.

The solutions, of course, differ greatly depending on where along the political spectrum you stand.

Yesterday, for example, Shelter issued its latest call to action, proposing three million new social homes to be built over the next 20 years. The housing charity points to the high costs and levels of insecurity among renters, and makes a link between “insecure unaffordable private rentals” and the rise of homelessness across Britain.

Shelter has correctly identified two key problems: that home ownership is becoming increasingly unaffordable, and that the rental market is not set up for long-term, stable tenancies, as seen in other countries.

It is also correct that other government policies to fix the problem, such as the Help-to-Buy scheme, are not an effective use of taxpayer money and actually distort the market by tinkering on the demand-side.

Building more social houses, however, is only one small part of a solution that must go far further. After all, the UK is already in the top three European countries in terms of social housing stock.

It’s not the lack of building social houses that is the key problem, but the lack of building full stop. This is set to be the worst decade for UK house-building since the Second World War, continuing a downward trend that has lasted half a century.

The result is that, even with the recent slowdown in house price growth, one in three millennials will never own their own home.

Unfortunately, this is where politics comes in, with endless arguments over who should build what kind of homes where and with what funding. For too long, stringent planning restrictions have prevented building in places where people actually want to live.

This needs to change – and in some cases it finally is, with a cross-party plan to redesignate areas of the so-called green belt within 10 minutes’ walk of a station to build a million extra homes around London.

There are other things we could do, from exploring high-tech construction methods like modular homes to repurposing disused retail and warehouse space to building new commuter towns with cutting-edge transport links, as well as looking into reforming the rental sector.

However, without more building – and lots of it – the housing crisis is only going to get worse, and is set to throw a spanner in the works of any government, from any party, that hopes to improve business competitiveness, social mobility, and standards of living in the UK.

Source: City A.M.

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The five-year plan to tackle homelessness in Coventry

Growing concerns about the number of homeless people in Coventry are being tackled in a new five-year plan developed by the city council.

From 2013/14 to 2017/18 just over 5,000 approached the council because they were homeless or threatened with homelessness.

The main reasons for homelessness included a family relationship breakdown (29 per cent), end of private rented tenancy (28 per cent in 2017/18) and the violent breakdown of a relationship (13 per cent).

The council’s Housing and Homelessness Strategy 2019-2024 highlights the need to reduce the number of people in temporary accommodation, and provide enough affordable homes.

It also pledges to develop a ‘partnership approach to street homelessness’, bring empty homes back into use and improve maintenance of all rented properties – which makes up 25 per cent of housing in Coventry.

Housing shortage

Latest figures indicate that nationally only around 160-165,000 new house are being built every year – well short of the government’s target to build 300,000 new homes a year.

At a scrutiny meeting this week, cabinet member for housing Councillor Ed Ruane said: “It is not rocket science – we need to build more homes and we need to be less timid when people object to house building.

“We need to be building houses at a much quicker rate than what we are.”

 

Mark Andrews, planning and housing policy manager, added: “There has been a real reference to making sure we do not just deliver affordable houses, but genuinely affordable homes.

“We are thinking about what is affordable to Mr and Mrs Coventry.”

Temporary accommodation

Coventry City Council no longer owns any council housing after the stock was transferred to Whitefriars Housing Group in 2000.

But it is looking at ways to get homeless people into more suited temporary accommodation and recently agreed to enter into a £1.7m lease to place them into Caradoc Hall as just one measure.

 Caradoc Hall
Caradoc Hall

The council’s last contract for homelessness and ex-offenders accommodation and support was awarded to The Salvation Army in April 2014, which was worth £9.1m.

It is due to be re-commissioned when it comes to an end in April, but the council has been urged to rethink this.

Louise Morley, from the Experts by Experience group, said: “We are discussing the possibility of multiple homelessness providers within the city.

“Currently it is the Salvation Army and that’s the choice. Once you have been thrown out of the Salvation Army you are back on the streets.”

Kate Still, West Midlands Housing Group’s chief operating officer added: “There is no single organisation in the city than can meet the full needs of homelessness. It is very diverse.”

Women on the streets

Calls were also made for stand-alone support for women who end up on the streets due to abuse.

Ms Morley added: “We would also like to see some provision for women as well. If you have been subject to any kind of abuse it is currently not fit for purpose.”

A consultation ended on December 18 and will be presented to cabinet and council for approval in February.

By Tom Davis, Local Democracy Reporter

Source: Coventry Telegraph

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Plans for 400 homes in Walsall revived

More than 400 homes will be built on a Walsall estate under plans which are set to be given the green light when they come before council bosses next week.

Walsall Housing Group and Keepmoat Homes want to build 407 homes on land at Goscote Lane, in Goscote, near Pelsall, as part of the borough’s ‘biggest ever residential regeneration scheme’

Walsall Council’s planning officers have recommended the scheme is approved at the meeting on Thursday.

The news comes after planning bosses approved a plan to build 426 houses on the land in April last year, but no work began and now a fresh application for 407 homes has been submitted.

Head of development at Walsall Housing Group, Mark Ramdehal, said: “This is the final phase of the borough’s biggest ever residential regeneration scheme, delivering more than 800 new energy efficient homes in North Walsall.

“These revised plans have seen us replace proposed one and two bedroom apartments with two, three and four bedroom houses, in recognition of the need for more affordable family homes within the region.

“Subject to planning permission, we aim to be on site in the New Year, with the first homes completed by the end of 2019.”

The 407 houses includes 281 dwellings for private sale, and 126 for affordable general needs which compromise of bungalows and houses.

In the application, agent Konstantina Zannetaki says: “The development is part of the wider Goscote Lane Corridor Regeneration scheme, which is part of Walsall Council’s Strategic Regeneration Framework (SRF) initiative.

“The aim of the initiative is to regenerate the wider area with new, high quality housing and attractive, usable open spaces.

“The aim of this scheme is to create a safe, secure and desirable place to live in. It is vital that the proposals are influenced by and respond sensitively to the site’s context and surrounding buildings.”

The main entrance onto the site would be along the western boundary at the junction with Goscote Lane and Goscote Lane Crescent. A secondary entrance would run parallel to this, further south.

Councillor Ian Robertson, who represents the Blakenall ward, said: “We hoped that it would have started by now, but we welcome the fact that it’s moving forward and a new community can grow where the old one failed.”

Source: Express and Star

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Modular homes are the future of UK housing

The column inches written about the dysfunctional British housing market are legion. Too few homes, at too high a price, built for too few people. Two years ago, the Farmer Report commissioned by the Government concluded that the British construction industry, using a medical analogy, was a dying patient.

Fast forward to today, it still lies on its sick bed, failing to change at a scale necessary to answer the UK housing crisis, boost productivity or innovate quick enough. The collapse of Carillion proves how fragile major contractors can be. Mark Farmer said at one event late last year that the industry: “is standing on a burning platform and all other options have gone. It simply has to change.”

Modular homes set to revive ailing construction industry

There’s one option, which could be a reviving shot in the arm for this ailing industry, and that’s modular construction. Rather than lay bricks and pour concrete on-site, sections can be manufactured in a factory, shipped to their destination and then bolted together for final assembly. The finished product can look very similar to existing buildings, yet 80 per cent of the work is done off-site.

This offers a new way of delivering more buildings, faster and of better quality, including homes, schools, hospitals or prisons. In his Autumn Budget, the Chancellor Philip Hammond said the state will use its purchasing power to drive the adoption of this technology come 2019, whether it be through the Ministry of Transport, Justice, Health, Education or Defence.

This offers a new way of delivering more buildings, faster and of better quality

“We cannot deliver the infrastructure we need with the model we have today, there just isn’t enough capacity,” explains Kenny Ingram, global industry director for IFS. “It’s the reason why the government mentions modular homes in every second sentence at the moment, it doesn’t help that there are labour and skills shortages as well.”

Major construction firms getting on-board with modular

Many industry players including Mace, Laing O’Rourke and Mott MacDonald support offsite manufacturing, so do others such as Kier, NG Bailey, Sverfield and Arup, all extolling the benefits of so-called construction integrated manufacturing, or design for manufacture.

“We are looking at the biggest change in 100 years,” states Mr Ingram, whose company develops and delivers enterprise software for customers, globally. “It’s been talked about for a long-time, but now there’s real momentum and we’ve seen a greater number of companies come and talk to us about this.”

The UK construction industry is slow at moving into the 21st Century, adopting new technologies and changing its business processes, including the use of digital design tools, such as building information modelling  (BIM). Productivity has barely budged in 25 years, in manufacturing it’s doubled in this time.

The government wants 300,000 homes a year built by 2025, at the moment the sector can only deliver 190,000. The UK now lags behind Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands when it comes to the merger of manufacturing and construction, while in Japan more than 15 per cent of a million or so new homes constructed each year are, to some extent, prefabricated.

The many benefits of modular homes 

There’s also a perfect storm brewing in this sector with an ageing workforce, a lack of new entrants and growing restrictions on free movement of labour, think Brexit, as well as a structural decline. There were 12,000 small housebuilders in 1988 accounting for one in four homes, by 2017 this had dropped to 2,500 responsible for just 12 per cent of new builds .

“There are lots of cultural barriers to change. The big driver is the housing market and the current crisis. This will force the issue. We are going to have to build more and companies are going to have to release land and land banks to relieve the pressure or build houses on them affordably. There is a sheer weight of demand,” states Mr Ingram.

There are benefits to building modular homes, 50 per cent reduction in time, lower labour costs, less materials, which means lower overall costs

“The market is now catching up. There are benefits to building modular homes, 50 per cent reduction in time, lower labour costs, less materials, which means lower overall costs. There are now quite a few factories where these modular homes can be built.”

However, investing in offsite manufacturing from the construction industry is still in a very early stage. Capital costs are high. Many top tier companies don’t know what their strategy is or should be. The government is pushing modular construction, and digital solutions like BIM, but is yet to mandate on it.

“The issue is getting people to realise there is an issue at all. Many construction firms are entrepreneurial and privately run. They started as one-man bands. Getting them to change is challenging. However, the fact that they are entrepreneurial means they can turn on a knife-edge quickly and invest if they have to,” decries Mr Ingram.

Construction needs government buy-in to drive modular forward

Amongst industry players there’s widespread agreement that if the government legislated on modular manufacture creating a solid pipeline of work there would be a drive to invest in factories that could churn out the buildings and infrastructure of the future.

“The government will force the issue in time. The issue is that the construction industry is still working on the same platforms as it ever has. Many companies don’t know how to manufacture. Shipping and logistics will also be part of this new picture. Many traditional firms just don’t have business systems that support these capabilities,” says Mr Ingram.

“We have solutions that works with construction, manufacturing and logistics. That’s why people are listening to us. The fact is the disruption will come, maybe not from construction, but from other sectors. Insurance companies, manufacturers, even Amazon are looking into this.”

The fact is the disruption will come, maybe not from construction, but from other sectors. Insurance companies, manufacturers, even Amazon are looking into this

Other sectors of the economy have been disrupted by tech-driven solutions from transport (Tesla), to accommodation (Airbnb), construction could be next. It doesn’t have to be from a domestic player either, with modular manufacturing, competition is global, since flat-pack housing can be produced in Sheffield or Shanghai.

“We began investing in construction 20 years ago and in parallel have a strong capability in manufacturing. It is a no brainer to bring the two together and offer the best of both worlds,” states Mr Ingram. “Now expect to see huge change around the corner.”

Source: Raconteur