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Housing policy demands huge mix not marginal gains

Of all the measures outlined in last week’s much-anticipated housing white paper, perhaps most encouraging is the government’s support for offsite manufacturing.

Self-build, custom-build and manufactured homes have been effective components of housing strategies for countries in Western Europe and Scandinavia for many years, with high-performing offsite products representing established elements of their housebuilding markets.

Indeed, there are already examples of offsite manufactured housing in the UK, including YMCA London South West’s Y:Cube that was developed by architect Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners with Aecom as project manager. Key to the success of this scheme was to build high-quality accommodation faster and cheaper than if traditional methods of construction were used.

Right resources and new players

More widespread implementation of offsite manufacturing in the UK would certainly help build homes quickly and at reduced costs. These types of benefits appear to be behind the government’s support for greater use of the offsite approach, with the white paper citing modern methods of construction as important for improving productivity in housebuilding.

But successful delivery will be dependent on building a robust supply chain and effectively tackling the challenge of delivering at volume in complex urban settings. The UK housing sector will need to create the right skills and resources to deliver, as well as encourage new players into the market.

Given the scale of the UK’s housing shortage, improving speed of delivery will be crucial to enable a meaningful influx of new homes.

“Any focus on creating new large-scale housing developments must not be at the expense of urban transformation”

The white paper proposed further measures to tackle delays, including reducing the timescales for developers to implement permissions from three years to two.

Of equal importance

While accelerating the number of new builds is critical, tackling the housing crisis requires a mixed approach that includes a range of dwelling types and tenures. Any focus on creating new large-scale housing developments must not be at the expense of urban transformation. Increasing the density and development potential of land assets in existing towns and cities is equally important.

Building a stable supply of homes also requires greater emphasis on sustainable, long-term strategic planning. The white paper’s promise to strengthen the requirement for local authorities to have up-to-date local plans is a step in the right direction, but local authorities struggling to meet their housing targets should be planning for up to 25 years in advance when building new communities.

Given the desperate need to build more homes, looking beyond incremental increases is vital.

Andrew Jones is practice leader – design, planning & economics – at Aecom

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