Housing minister Esther McVey has said she wants a green housing “revolution” in the North of England composed of hi-tech, prefabricated, modular houses.
Modular housing involves building the majority of a property in a factory beforehand, allowing for mass production and for the main structure to be transported in one go to the site and fitted into place.
Backers of prefab construction point to the need for less construction traffic and the need to address the sector’s ageing core workforce, which is currently being topped up by migrant workers.
She has announced £38m for the initiative, but Labour has criticised it noting that only two of the councils benefiting from the extra cash are situated above the Watford Gap, the theoretical divide that separates the north and south of England.
Hull City Council and Cheshire West and Chester Council will take a slice of the funding, along with North Somerset Council and Bristol City Council in the south west, and Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council and Hastings Borough Council on the south coast.
The money will help with the construction of 2,072 homes and McVey used a speech in Sheffield to say she believes the industry could be worth £40bn post-Brexit and become Britain’s hi-tech manufacturing answer to Silicon Valley.
Of the potential in the north of England she said: “We must invest in this new technology. It’s as simple as that. The benefits are clear. Some modular homes can be built in a factory over a week. And assembled on site in a day.
“Industry has told us some homes built using modern methods can have 80 per cent fewer defects and heating bills up to 70 per cent lower.
“Homes built using modern methods can be of higher quality, greener and built to last. I want to see a housing green revolution. In the north of England where the first industrial revolution began.”
The deals are the latest to be awarded through the government’s £350m Local Authority Accelerated Construction programme, which was launched to accelerate the delivery of local authority housing schemes.
Labour’s shadow housing minister John Healey said McVey had “been caught out” during the announcement.
“The Tories’ pathetic housing proposals have nothing to offer the north of England,” said the Opposition frontbencher.
“The Housing Minister has been caught out making promises to the north, but then giving most of this paltry pot of cash to areas in the south.”
Critics of the new housing tech say smaller suppliers are overlooked in the process and imported materials are favoured, whereas traditionally constructed homes contain 80 per cent of UK-produced materials.
Mike Leonard, from Building Alliance, said modular houses would last for only half the time of a masonry-built home – approximately 60 years – and were “fire prone” given their timber structures.
“They are not designed to last. To put it bluntly, they are caravans without wheels,” he said.
By Jack Loughran