Prefab boom with 3,000 a year made in Yorkshire

Homes above car parks are possible as ZEDfactory has shown
Homes above car parks are possible as ZEDfactory has shown
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This week’s housing white paper opened the door to more pre-fabricated homes. Sharon Dale reports.

The term “prefab” is tainted by its association with damp and mouldy properties originally commissioned by Churchill as a temporary fix for the post-war housing shortage.

Now, faced with a 21st century housing crisis, the government is once again embracing factory-built homes. This week’s white paper entitled “Fixing our broken housing market” revealed support for off-site construction. This shift in strategy comes after great strides in the sector, where new materials and technologies have vastly improved the quality of the properties, now re-branded as “modular homes”.

Prefabrication, aka modern methods of construction, has been tried and tested on commercial buildings and by self-builders. While it is not always cheaper, it is far quicker and more reliable than traditional brick and block builds, where project delivery times are affected by skills shortages and the weather.

The government backing for the nascent industry is welcome news for investment and insurance giant Legal and General, which has just opened the world’s largest modular homes construction factory in Sherburn-in-Elmet, near Selby.

The factory is now building prototype show homes and has ambitious plans to produce up to 10 properties per day from 12 production lines, which adds up to more than 3,000 a year.

The dwellings will be constructed from cross-laminated timber made by gluing together sheets of timber. The factory will have its own lamination plant, with large CNC machines used to cut wall and floor panels with openings for doors and windows. CLT can be used to build everything from family homes to flats, which can be flat packed and assembled on site or built and craned into position. According to Legal and General, CLT is already the fastest-growing building material in central Europe and Japan.

This week’s housing white paper promises financial support for modern methods of construction from its Home Building Fund and its innovation and growth fund, while making public land available for the prefab projects, encouraging planning permissions and putting pressure on banks to lend on modular schemes.

Lack of land in urban areas has led to innovative plans to build homes that sit above ground level in city and town centre car parks. JLL has identified almost 10,500 urban car parks in the UK as suitable for accommodating 400,000 homes with no loss of parking spaces.

ZED Factory has just built a prototype of a prefab house on stilts over a parking bay at the building science centre in Watford. The ZEDPod costs about £65,000 to produce and is energy self-sufficient thanks to photo voltaic panels and battery storage.

Pulse Modular Homes is working with North Lincolnshire Council to build a five-storey block of flats on a steel podium above a car park in Scunthorpe and is keen to export the idea to Leeds.

The company’s co-founder David Brown says: “We can complete projects in under half the time of a traditional build with a higher level of quality. It should also be 10 per cent cheaper.”

He describes the apartments as “caravan-style” pods with cladding that will be craned onto the site. He adds that scientific tests show that car fumes won’t be an issue for residents

The development is a joint venture between the council and Pulse and Pulse’s funding has been privately sourced. Finding a lender to support non-standard constriction projects is difficult.

“Borrowing is a problem for schemes like ours but we are pleased that the government has pledged its wholehearted support for off-site construction. That should make a big difference,” says David. He adds that finding a mortgage for modular homes should not be a problem as long as they have an NHBC warranty.

Jonathan Morgan, of Leeds city living specialists Morgans, believes that utilising car parks is “definitely an option for Leeds but will require partnerships.”

Charles Calvert, head of JLL’s residential team in Leeds, adds: “It will take many years before off-site construction makes a big difference, but the government is spot on supporting this sector.”