John Prescott’s plans for social housing focus too much on the design and not enough on the delivery. Although it is encouraging to see the ODPM challenge housebuilders to achieve a build target of £60,000, the industry cannot afford to ignore how these homes will be delivered.
Opinion about whether the £60,000 figure can be reached is mixed, and understandably so. The South-east could face a particular challenge. Build costs in London stand at £1400/m2. Based on this figure, even a net 45 m2 one-bed flat would cost £72,000. By building more cheaply we risk compromising ecological performance and space standards. Density could be a further concern. The most cost-effective structure would be a four-storey building with four flats per floor, avoiding the need for a frame, but this fails to make the most cost-effective use of land.
There is a solution: it is possible that such challenges could be overcome using prefabrication. However, the UK’s off-site manufacture industry is not yet equipped to deliver at the capacity required and contractors will need to look to Europe, and increasing capacity and use of overseas manufacturers brings a new set of logistical and cost implications. Planning, pilot schemes, financial management and flexibility will be crucial. Contractors and clients will need to work closely with consultants to achieve this.
Can we achieve Mr Prescott’s plan by 2010? Probably, but project management is the key.
Tim Young, John Rowan & Partners