The extension to the Design for Manufacturing competition, which expires today, should serve as a reminder that timeliness will be everything in meeting John Prescott's £60,000 homes vision.
Not just for the successfully shortlisted companies to deliver their plans by today’s deadline, but in English Partnerships continuing to make land available and, importantly, in delivering the homes once the competition winners are announced next year.
At this early stage it’s easy to forget that the competition aims to create affordable homes for key workers. With affordability in mind, it’s the selling price not the build cost that will be the important issue. Unless these £60,000-home communities can be delivered in sufficient volume to influence market conditions and keep prices low, regardless of the build cost, affordable could turn out to be a misnomer.
The prevalence being given to off-site construction by the shortlisted firms is encouraging as this will help to create standardised processes to speed up building, but this innovation needs to be extended to include processes. Retail refurbishment schemes, for example, are always delivered at a considerable pace to minimise store closure time, and are approached more like a car production line than a construction project. Housing can benefit from similar processes. Effective project management to keep projects on target will be equally essential, particularly with the integration of off-site technology, and working with companies experienced in rapid delivery while maintaining high-quality standards should be part of this.
While the ODPM’s two-week extension to submit plans has been met with relief, failing to consider how these homes will actually be delivered in the required volumes could cause problems later. The industry has the skills – now is the time to make sure the latest extension doesn't become the first of many delays.
Tim Young, partner, John Rowan & Partners, Ealing