Those who are old enough to remember the prefab housing of the post war era are probably feeling rather unenthusiastic about their return. The pace and scale at which they were built led to the quality of the constructs to be pretty low, and of the hundreds and thousands that were built, only a few remain today.
Time, and more importantly technology, has moved on, and rather than solely looking to solve a housing crisis as was the case in the 1940s, modern methods of construction can now deliver low and zero carbon buildings which work towards eradicating fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions.
Housing Associations in Wales are recognising the benefits of OSM and some have already started developing their own programmes of modern methods of construction (MMC). Enabled by The Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme, last year, Cartrefi Conwy established a new ‘modular house’ factory to produce low-energy homes with running costs of just £200 a year. Not only will these new homes have a positive impact on both the environment and the housing shortage, but also tenants will be able to keep warm affordably and the community will benefit from new jobs and training opportunities.
In South Wales, Valleys to Coast have completed the construction of semi-detached homes which had electrics pre-fitted in their factory in Kenfig Hill and were later delivered to site. Residents will benefit from low energy bills and warmer homes, allowing them to live comfortably and affordably.
The Welsh Government this week published its Off-Site Manufacturing Strategy for Wales which looks to ‘re-imagine social house building in Wales.’ As well as recognising the ability for off-site manufacturing (OSM) to play a key role in healthier homes and decarbonisation, it also talks of a ‘Welsh First’ approach where materials and components used for OSM are sourced locally in Wales, and where government interventions help encourage the market to develop supply chains, factories and skills development centres. This will enable the needs of the next generation of social housing in Wales to be met.
Alongside publishing a strategy, the Minister for Housing, Julie James, also announced a £45 million investment in the modular housing industry in Wales. This will open the doors for many more housing associations to develop off-site manufacturing approaches, helping to build healthier, energy efficient homes that are both permanent and affordable.
Housing Associations already act as anchor institutions within their communities. Being able to utilise MMC and OSM will further enable them to create more local jobs and use more local materials, really building on the foundational economy.
So can modern methods of construction and off-site manufacturing solve the climate and housing crisis? Maybe not solve, but certainly help. These methods create great opportunities to build high quality, affordable, low carbon homes at pace and scale.