Housebuilder plans off-site manufacturing plant two decades after documentary killed demand for timber frame.
Housebuilder Barratt has announced plans to return to off-site manufacturing, 20 years after its use of timber frame was criticised in a World in Action documentary.

The company has entered a joint venture with steel module maker Terrapin to produce modular houses with two and three bedrooms.

A 9000 m2 plant has been created in Daventry, Northamptonshire, which will be ready to put up prototype homes on site in six months.

The project, called Advance Housing, aims to produce 1000 homes in three years. Most houses will be built in partnership with housing associations for the social housing sector though some private housing units will be constructed for Barratt.

David Pretty, group chief executive of Barratt Developments, said the company had gone into the venture "positively but carefully".

The World in Action documentary, broadcast in June 1983, highlighted the vulnerability of badly constructed timber-frame houses to wood rot and fire. In the wake of the programme, sales of Barratt's timber-frame houses fell sharply in England, and the whole sector was affected.

Pretty said the company had been tempted to reconsider off-site manufacturing for a number of reasons. He said: "We are doing this because of the skills shortage, the British weather's impact on production, and the ability to get bathrooms and kitchens fully finished in the factory."

But progress in prefabrication is likely to be slow. Pretty said: "Homes built this way are estimated to be 12% to 20% more expensive than traditionally built homes. It has good potential, but we have to get the viability right. I don't believe it will provide an overnight solution to the shortage of new housing."

That view was echoed by a report published this week by agent FPDSavills Research. Its residential bulletin pointed out that cost is the biggest single barrier to the expansion of off-site manufacturing in housebuilding.

Barratt does not expect any recurrence of the problems identified 20 years ago because it is now using steel rather than wood and there is closer monitoring of workmanship.