The Amphion scheme, as it is known, will serve as a demonstration project for the Housing Forum, John Prescott's vehicle for implementing the Egan agenda in housing.
The announcement comes as a number of housebuilders are turning to timber-frame construction to achieve Egan targets and offset the shortage of skilled bricklayers and other wet trades, such as plasterers.
Countryside Properties has begun its first timber-frame project since the mid-1980s, a 37-house scheme in west London for housing association Peabody Trust. Bellway Homes is also due to begin work on a timber-frame development in Hainault, east London, its first timber-frame project in the South-east in 15 years.
The Amphion scheme is to be developed by a consortium of housing associations, including Hyde, Hastoe and Swale, in Kent and south-east London. The first scheme, developed by Hyde, is due to begin in November in Gillingham, Kent. It has been designed by PCKO Architects.
The aim of the project is to shift housebuilding from the site to the factory; a process that timber-frame construction lends itself to more readily than other types of construction.
The eventual goal is to prefabricate 60% of the houses, rather than 15% as in a conventionally produced timber-frame development, and have them all built in two years.
The Timber Research and Development Association and the University of Greenwich are also sponsors of the venture, which won a DETR grant for feasibility studies. Architects with experience in timber-frame housing design, including Calford Seadon, PCKO, PRP and Archetype, entered an invited competition at the start of 1998, and have all been retained to design housing for individual sites.
Entire timber-framed walls will be prefabricated in factory conditions, and to reduce material wastage houses will be designed to correspond precisely with the size of components such as plywood and plasterboards.
Another idea is to design the ground-floor slab like a platform that would allow any configuration of walls and internal partitions.