Government seeks to meet shortfall on 72,000-unit scheme to rehouse people hit by recent disaster

The Japanese government is calling on UK firms to help meet a shortfall on a 72,000-unit emergency housing scheme for people who lost their homes in the recent earthquake and tsunami.

Contractors in Japan have capacity to deliver about 60,000 units. In an unusual move for the traditionally closed market that reflects the scale of the need, procuring authority the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has put out tenders to international firms to deliver the remainder.

Takayuki Ezaki, chief official in the building guidance division at the MLIT, told Building that speed would be of the essence.

“The affected prefectures need the applicants to complete the housing construction within approximately two months. So speed is important,” he said.

While the tender documents stipulate that the estimated price should be “appropriate”, the budget has not been capped in order to finance the homes. Government figures cite the price of 5,000,000 Japanese yen (£37,000) per unit on past disaster reconstruction.

It is estimated that 160,000 people are living in temporary shelters including sports facilities, schools and hotels after the 11 March earthquake and subsequent tsunami. About 130,000 of these are in the three most affected prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, where the homes will be built.

International firms must enter into a partnership with a Japanese firm in order to qualify for the work and must have the capacity to deliver at least 100 units each and maintain the homes for two years. Qualifying parties will also be expected to provide the energy infrastructure to power the dwellings.

The deadline for submissions is next week and contracts are expected to be awarded six weeks later.

Hugh Mainwaring, of consultancy Charles Kendall Group, is putting in a bid with an unnamed Japanese firm to project manage the process for 5,000 units. The company has delivered emergency housing in other locations including Iraq and Australia.

The firm also wants to partner with waste-to-energy firms that could harvest wood debris, turn it into chipwood and use it to power turbines. This is intended to address the waste clearance issue and the fact that the country has had to make energy savings of up to 25%.

Long-term vision

Pritzker-prize winning architect Tadao Ando will lead a Reconstruction Design Council that has been set up to regenerate Japan’s devastated coastal region and turn it into “one of the world’s most desirable places to live.”

The council, which also includes figures from academia and politics, has been tasked with preparing a set of proposals on how to rebuild the region over the long term for the prime minister by the end of June. Ideas include an inland eco-town housing 50,000-100,000 people.

Ando won the Pritzker prize in 1995, the year of Japan’s last significant earthquake in Kobe.

Building for a Japanese context

Japan’s stringent planning regulations may have to be relaxed to deliver the prefab homes on time but international firms will still have to take account of the cultural context.

“The problem is finding land to put these units on, so much of the land is devastated and the rest of it is not built on for good reason,” says Sue Kinoshita, director of UK Trade and Investment in Japan. “But the authorities are going to have to be flexible. Some of the land has shifted and records of ownership are lost. The government is also relaxing its rules around certain imports.

“But homes need to be earthquake proof and in line with the Japanese lifestyle,” she adds. Lifestyle considerations include a vestibule area to remove shoes and Japanese-style baths rather than showers.

A maximum floorplan of 30m2 per unit is expected to be specified, alongside the requirement that materials can be recycled after demolition.