A North West consortium of landlords is piloting modern methods of construction to meet requests from the HCA to identify techniques to speed up the house building process.
New Charter Housing Trust Group and Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH) – members of the JV North consortium created to deliver new homes under the Affordable Homes Programme – have trialled the use of off-site construction methods to build new homes and are now exploring further options.
New Charter Housing Trust Group’s £800,000 Boundary Close scheme in Mossley received £150,000 of funding from the HCA’s 2011-14 Affordable Homes Programme.
It saw seven homes manufactured in a factory and craned into place making it the first scheme of its type to receive HCA funding.
LMH is designing a scheme with input from the HCA to build five bungalows that could see the piloting of an insulation product the HCA would like testing.
The scheme, which is due to be submitted for planning permission in the next month, is considering the use of an insulation system manufactured off-site with final assembly taking place during the build process.
Should planning consent be given, LMH will submit a grant bid to the Affordable Homes Guarantee Programme to help finance the scheme.
JV North members are now exploring how the work can be scaled up to drive down costs and streamline the building process.
Development Director at New Charter, Sean Stafford, said: “Pre-fab houses have been around for a long time but it’s becoming a big driver with the HCA now.
“If you request grant and include modern methods of construction, you stand a far better chance of being successful.
“It is something we as a landlord and JV North as a consortium are very interested in and think there’s good potential.
“We have held talks with Manchester City Council to explore it in more detail because we need to have as many options available to us.
“We have a highly competitive home building industry where we can’t guarantee prices with any certainty and we are often faced with time delays from elements out of our control such as the weather but with a factory you can book your order in to be produced on a certain day and it will be ready.”
To make it work for social housing, bigger development numbers are needed.
Director of Assets and Enterprise at LMH, Maggi Howard, said: “The greater the volume, the more efficient it becomes.
“We’re working with the HCA to design a scheme that if it goes ahead would give us both a lot of insight into the effectiveness of the wall insulation product that we’ve heard good things about.
“Depending on the success of this project, it may become a model for LMH and JV North members to deliver future units.
“We have to think laterally about how we tackle housing demand and modern methods of construction present an opportunity for us to test ideas on a small scale with support from the HCA.”
Once a product or technique is proven, JV North says the ideal approach would be to pool schemes together to achieve economies of scale to make it feasible.
“If we are going to do it regularly and make an impression, we will need a significant number of homes to keep the factory busy and fine tune the product,” adds Mr Stafford.
“If we can speed up the process then it will be more appealing to landlords because it will help us meet the growing demand for new housing.
“All 10 JV North members are building new homes across the North West and there are many other organisations doing the same in the region.
“So potentially, by coming together we may be able to overcome the Achilles’ heel of not being able to provide the factory with enough volume.
“If we committed to 500 homes, for example, that would be a year’s supply and we could get a better price from the factory, secure the best slots for the work to be carried out and guarantee dates.
“If we’re being very aspirational, why couldn’t we look at opening a factory in the North West and reduce costs further?”