The housing industry can tackle the crisis by innovating and taking advantage of off-site manufacturing
In the UK we face a housing crisis – that is well known. Communities secretary Sajid Javid has said there is an urgent need to build 300,000 homes a year in England and Wales and describes the shortage as a “national outrage”, creating a barrier that prevents first-time buyers getting onto the property ladder, as well as inhibiting sustainable and well-constructed social housing development.
Current predictions suggest this housing crisis is going to get worse in the next decade, and it is important that the government and the chancellor for the exchequer, Philip Hammond, look to address this as a priority. Lack of supply pushes up demand and prices, and we are now witnessing almost complete exclusion of some demographics in the house ownership market.
As well as lack of supply, there is also rising concern about the quality of newly built properties coming to the market
As well as lack of supply, there is also a rising concern about the quality of newly built properties coming to the market. A recent survey by the National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA) and RIBA found that 74% of respondents would not be happy to buy a house built in the last decade. Volume builders are largely driven by a need to meet current regulations and maximise returns, and this is impacting quality significantly.
We are a country with a strong heritage in innovation, and across many sectors this continues unabated. Unfortunately, the housing industry has failed to keep up with this innovation. There is not enough creativity or entrepreneurialism from housebuilders or developers, certainly not on a level that can make a significant impact at this point.
However, a new focus is gaining momentum across the sector, with an increasing appetite for off-site manufacture and prefabrication
However, a new focus is gaining momentum across the sector, with an increasing appetite for off-site manufacture and prefabrication. Building in a clean, dry, and most importantly, safe environment can only improve standards across the industry. New computer software, technologies and machinery advancement has meant that entire developments can be prefabricated within a factory environment and shipped to site for rapid installation.
The initial reception to construction techniques, such as structural insulated panels (SIPs) was muted, primarily due to higher upfront costs. However, the long-term benefits for residents, landlords and the environment significantly outweigh these initial outlays. These benefits include rapid construction times, low energy usage due to the excellent insulative properties, limited thermal bridging and inherently air-tight characteristics.
There are a number of areas that are ideally suited to new and innovative methods of construction, for example social and registered social landlord housing; private rented sector housing; local authority housing association builds; educational buildings and classrooms and low-energy commercial buildings.
We have a real opportunity, and more than that, a real need in the UK to innovate and change the way we build all types of housing. There needs to be a focus on low energy usage and speed of construction, without sacrificing structural or design integrity. We need to build houses quickly, but we need them to last. We are an innovative nation and we need to turn that mindset, skill base and attitude towards our housing.
John Langley is director at JML Contracts