Making a splash with factory-built homes

The factory-built houses at New Islington, Manchester
The factory-built houses at New Islington, Manchester
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Regeneration specialist Urban Splash is planning to bring its fashionable factory-made houses to Yorkshire. Sharon Dale reports.

Urban Splash is a small company with a big reputation for converting derelict and unloved buildings into the coolest places to live and work.

Buyers can customise the interior space

Buyers can customise the interior space

Next week, the Urban Splash team, including Yorkshire-based US managing director Simon Gawthorpe, will be in Cannes at MIPIM, an event that brings together the world’s most influential property people. Its aim is to woo local authorities with its latest bright idea.

Best known for converting mills, warehouses and run-down council flats into design-led apartments and work spaces, the regeneration specialist has branched out into family housing. True to form, the designs are cutting edge rather than conventional.

The modular homes, which have been branded hoUSe, offer modernity and flexible living space. Built and fitted out by Derbyshire-based Insulshell, they are craned on to site in sections. Buyers can play at “Grand Designs” by choosing how to configure the interiors to suit their needs and eight weeks later their home is ready to move into.

Urban Splash says it is filling a gap in the market: “We want to reignite the nation’s appetite for new-build. It’s something buyers have grown tired of thanks to identikit red box building from mass developers, which offers limited choice or flexibility.”

Urban Splash homes being craned onto site in North Sheilds

Urban Splash homes being craned onto site in North Sheilds

A trial development in Manchester has proved successful and now the company is ready to roll out the factory-built houses to the rest of the country with an ambition of erecting 2,000 modular homes a year.

Leeds, York, Bradford and Wakefield are on Simon Gawthorpe’s radar as ideal locations. “The idea is that we partner with local authorities and build on public sector brownfield land on the city fringe in areas that would benefit from regeneration,” he says.

Urban Splash partnered with architects shedkm to design and develop the insulated timber framed terraced hoUSes, which are clad in fibre cement board. Customers choose from either a 1,000 or 1,500 sq ft property with high ceilings and big windows as standard.

Buyers decide whether they want their living room on the top floor with an exposed pitched roof or on the ground floor. They can opt for open-plan space or a series of separate rooms and can choose extras, including a kitchen, floor finishes, utility rooms and home offices. Or they can fit out the shell themselves.

“We send the order to the factory and, at the moment, it takes four-and-a-half weeks to construct but that will come down to 14 days as we increase volume and efficiency. The property is then taken to site on the back of a lorry and craned into position,” says Simon. “Within ten years, this way of building will be the norm.”

As the homes are built off-site, construction costs remain constant. The quality of finish is better and the process is far quicker than on-site building. At the moment, modular homes are about 10 per cent more expensive to produce than conventional new-builds but that figure is expected to fall with economies of scale.

The government recently announced its support for off-site construction and one of the biggest manufacturers will be in Yorkshire. Legal and General’s factory in Sherburn-in-Elmet is due to open soon and aims to produce 3,000 homes a year.

“We started working on our project five years ago, so we are well ahead of most other companies,” says Simon Gawthorpe. “We are up and running and we have lenders companies on board happy to offer mortgages on our properties.”

The first development of 43 hoUSes in New Islington has won 11 awards and prices started at £275,000 for a two-storey house. A second site, Irwell Riverside in Manchester, has also sold out and 34 hoUSes at Smith’s Dock in North Shields are about to be released for sale.

“I’d really like to think that we’ll be on site in Yorkshire next year,” says Simon, who also has the task of overseeing the gradual conversion of Lister Mills in Bradford into flats and work space and guiding the gargantuan Park Hill flats scheme in Sheffield to completion.

The 12-year project to transform Park Hill’s grade II listed former crime-ridden council estate into a des res address and cultural hub has been challenging and rewarding.

The first phase of the Park Hill project is now complete and there are 10 work spaces and 260 new apartments.

The revised development agreement has been split into four further phases. Urban Splash is working with architects Mikhail Riches on designs for phase two, which will include 210 flats and 130,000 sq ft of commercial space. There will be a new facade for this part of the building and there will be a public consultation on the proposal before a detailed planning application is submitted in late spring. Depending on market conditions, the flats should be complete within three years and may be on sale off-plan within 18 months.

Phase three will be 330 student apartments created by a specialist developer. Phases four and five include more apartments and the S1 Artspace, which will turn the derelict Duke Street wing of Park Hill into artist studios, live/work flats, workshops, an education space, auditorium, shop and café, along with a city centre sculpture park and galleries. The whole scheme should be complete by 2022.

Simon says: “We’ve been on site since 2007. The aim has been to create a new quarter for the city of Sheffield where people want to live, work, play and visit.