Contractor Laing O’Rourke is set to unveil its own line of modular housing units, which it has been secretly working on for the past 12 months, write Stuart Macdonald and Thomas Lane.

Building understands that the contractor has built prototypes on a site near its headquarters in Dartford, Kent, and will use them on its own affordable and student housing schemes.

The move would confirm the contractor’s shift into housebuilding after it launched its housing arm, Explore Living, earlier this year.

A source said: “They have been developing modular technology for housing for at least a year. They feel they can build on their expertise in using this technology for offices and they think they can beat what is on offer elsewhere.”

It is understood that Laing O’Rourke’s in-house innovations team has been working on the designs since introducing its acclaimed concrete system for office blocks last year. It used the technique – which involves pre-cast concrete blocks – to build its Dartford head office and the neighbouring Land Securities building (above).

Ian Lindsay, deputy chief executive of Kent Thameside, said: “We know that Laing O’Rourke is looking to move into housebuilding, so if it is doing this then it will be very exciting.”

Explore Living has yet to record any sales, but it was linked earlier this year with the possible purchase of a site in Northfleet, Kent, from rival contractor Kier. It is thought that the site could accommodate up to 450 flats.

The decision by the contractor to explore using its modular technology for housing comes despite the fact that modern methods of construction have struggled to attract volume housebuilders. Although modular units take little time to assemble on site, they are deemed more expensive than traditional brick-and-block construction.

Laing O’Rourke declined to comment.