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Offsite’s time may have arrived as election nears

Another week, another housing initiative. As we edge closer to the election, we can no doubt expect the pledges to build more homes to be re-announced and repeated from all the parties.

This week it was the turn of the Conservatives to grab the headlines, both with a promise to double the number of starter homes to 200,000 and to harness new technology to speed up and reduce the cost of housebuilding.

Aligned to this, the mayor of London was sweeping away red tape to facilitate housebuilding at scale in Stratford.

We might just be witnessing some semi-joined-up thinking.

Central to government thrust is the harnessing of offsite manufacturing with the announcement of a £22m grant to Laing O’Rourke this week.

It’s been a subject very close to heart for Eric Pickles, who has also been trying to champion modern methods of construction to solve the housing crisis for some time.

What’s changed?

We’ve been here countless times, but is this a technology whose time has finally come? Is it different this time around?

Certainly there is more of a driver for offsite than ever before - it is the natural bedfellow of building information modelling, and it plays into the skills crisis and the need for higher levels of energy efficiency at a more cost-effective rate.

“The fact that less than 10 per cent of homes built are fabricated primarily offsite is a stark reminder how much of a distance there still is to go”

And then there is the advent of building new homes for the private rented sector - where the financial model is more related to speed of construction while homes-for-sale development is about staggering completion.

Fears over mortgages for buyers, potential systematic failure and poor image in the eyes of the public are some of the other reasons that traditional mainstream housebuilders haven’t gone there.

Some way still to go

Offsite needs volume and continuity to make it work and to ensure it’s financially viable.

How much the government’s new starter home initiative will play a part in this is unclear - with the announcement that 100,000 discounted starter homes will follow a design template.

But the fact that less than 10 per cent of homes built are fabricated primarily offsite is a stark reminder how much of a distance there still is to go on this.

Laing O’Rourke is certainly bullish and has good reason to be buoyed by its grant to help offset what is no doubt an almighty gamble investing in design for manufacture technology.

Whoever wins the next election, the stars are falling a little closer into alignment for offsite.

How long before Laing O’Rourke’s rivals sit up and take notice?

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