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Embrace new ways of building to solve housing crisis

As the election campaign heats up, one area all politicians seem to agree on is that the UK faces a deep-rooted housing shortage.

However, whether the annual new home target is 200,000 or 300,000 per year, the real question is: how are we going to get close to delivering them and meet the chronic need?

Growing pressures on housing are not going to be resolved overnight; it is a long-term, systemic challenge.

But if we are serious about cracking this nationwide issue – particularly acute in London and the South-east – then we must be imaginative and innovative in the way we build and deliver new homes.

Old meets new

Now more than ever, the time is right for all facets of the housing delivery sector to embrace the many attractions that modern methods of construction (MMC) can bring to the challenge, complementing our existing delivery methods.

It is not one or the other; we need traditional and the new together to solve the challenges.

“It is vital that government, regulators and those financing and insuring major developments get behind new ways of delivering homes”

With skills, materials and capacity shortages self-evident, it is incumbent on the industry to take advantage of the rising interest and investment in MMC and quickly embrace processes that are well-established in many international markets.

Particularly in dense urban settings, the potential advantages of advanced manufacturing and modular approaches – whether in terms of speed of build, reduced disruption or creating new skilled jobs – have a strong appeal.

At Hyde we plan to deliver around 5,000 new homes over the next three years and believe the best way to deliver these will be through a mix of new and traditional building techniques.

We have already identified new methods to pursue, which include volumetric and hybrid units, assembled fully fitted out before being transported to site; panellised flat panel units built in a factory; and components that can be incorporated into either conventionally built or MMC dwellings.

Not that simple

Of course, it’s not a switch that can just be flicked and make everything fine.

Even if we can get the systems and processes right to deliver housing in a new way, there are other significant challenges to confront.

It is vital that government, regulators and those financing and insuring major developments get behind new ways of delivering homes, helping us drive forward and deliver at scale and pace.

“The challenges of housing delivery cannot be underestimated. But they can be solved”

Hyde, like many housing associations, now has to build and sell new private homes and generate profits to reinvest in our core purpose of social housing provision.

If we are to deliver on our objectives and offer the range of housing solutions required, it is vital to ensure that, in a mortgage and lending environment that remains difficult for many individuals, banks and lenders are just as prepared to finance the purchase or part-purchase of new homes, whether built using MMC or not.

We must not forget we have to convince the UK’s homeowners and tenants that a new construction approach can be a gold standard, that a modular approach does not mean a post-war ‘prefab’ but something entirely different that is best in class in terms of sustainability, economy and liveability.

The challenges of housing delivery cannot be underestimated. But they can be solved.

By bringing all key stakeholders with us and embracing the new alongside the traditional, we can make a great leap forward, achieving delivery targets that have not been seen for decades.

David Gannicott is group business development director at the Hyde Group

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