Viewpoint: We need to use new ways to build houses

Bill Randall, former Leader and Chair of Housing Brighton and Hove City Council explains how more than 10,000 affordable homes are now on course to be delivered by 2021, thanks to a revolutionary manufacturing method.

The Government’s White Paper promising to mend the ‘broken housing market’ by building more genuinely affordable homes has moved housing up the political agenda. It’s a laudable and challenging ambition shared by all political parties, at a time when homelessness has risen by 32 per cent in England since 2009/10, and there is such a chronic shortage of affordable housing across the UK generally.

However, the chances of the traditional construction industry meeting this target are slim. It is ‘slow to modernise and make use of more efficient and faster ways of building,’ says the White Paper. ‘By increasing innovation and making greater use of modern methods of construction we can change this,’ it adds.

I am working with a new national housebuilder which promises to provide solutions to some of these intractable problems. Low Carbon Construction Worldwide Ltd (LCC). The company is currently negotiating substantial land deals with a number of local authorities, private land owners, social housing companies and private housing developers across the UK to enable the delivery of thousands of new low carbon affordable homes, to be commenced in 2018.

Using revolutionary construction methods, the Fareham-based developer says it is ready and able to produce in excess of 10,000 affordable, sustainable and high-quality homes a year by 2021 for rent or sale, providing it can acquire 50 plus development sites in 2018. Every site will be 100% affordable homes of mixed tenure and diverse residents, as opposed to the traditional mix of mainly market value with a smaller percentage of affordable homes.

At the centre of the unique LCC model is a temporary and tailor-made Offsite/Onsite™ factory, constructed on each site of 200 or more homes. The factory is run on the lines of a car assembly plant and employs local people. The basic structure of the new homes is a load-bearing structural insulated panels system (SIPs) with a high thermal rating, which is manufactured off-site by leading SIPs manufacturer HEMSEC and delivered to the factory.

Kitchens, bathrooms, heating systems and other components arrive in a single container delivery, are assembled inside the Offsite/Onsite™ factory, and the completed homes are craned in sections onto foundations that require no poured concrete.

The all-electric homes will be factory-fitted with triple-glazed windows, solar assisted water heating and solar PV with battery storage, which greatly reduce energy costs, and a ventilation, humidity and heat recovery system. Every room will have a mist fire-suppression system. Every home will have an electric vehicle charging point. These features will be standard across all tenures, and all new residents will have the same choice of tiles, flooring, kitchens and bathrooms from selected ranges.

The more than 50 UK-based suppliers include nationally known companies such as Howdens Joinery Ltd, Topps Tiles, Vent Axia and Victoria Plum. All suppliers and contractors are asked to adopt LCC’s comprehensive environmental policy to reduce environmental impact in construction and in the homes produced. All of them are fully committed, and are enthusiastic about the model.

The Offsite/Onsite™ factory embraces the advantages of modern methods of construction and drives down costs. Passing those cost savings on, LCC will sell its properties at the same national price across the UK at around 20 percent below the average UK home price. Temperature controlled indoor-working within the Offsite/Onsite™ factory eliminates bad weather delays, and the factory environment ensures greater quality control and workmanship in a safer and healthier workplace. An added bonus: the on-site factory cuts out waste, a huge advantage in a construction industry that sends 60 million tonnes of left-overs to the tip every year.

LCC is also providing end-to-end finance for its developments. It will buy and develop sites and it will offer a range of financial packages to the buyers and renters of its new homes through its affiliate company, Low Carbon Construction Finance Limited, which is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority.

These key financial packages include:

  • Rent to Buy, consisting of a 100 per cent refund on all rent paid by tenants during the first two years of occupation, which will be used towards the purchase price.
  • Key workers will able to borrow up to 10 per cent of the purchase price unsecured for up to 15 years at 0 per cent interest.
  • First time buyers, where LCC will match first time buyers’ deposits up to 10 per cent of the purchase price.

All of this will commence shortly at Parc Emlyn, near both Swansea and Carmarthen, where LCC is planning to build a new community of 850 homes ranging from 1-bedroom flats to 5-bedroom detached houses. When the Offsite/Onsite factory is running at full production on this site, it will turn out an average of one three-bedroom home a day and employ about 100 local people.

In high-value land areas LCC is seeking partnerships with local authorities, housing associations and developers. “We will work with anybody who shares our desire and commitment to speed up the process of providing affordable and high-quality homes,” says Simon Allso, the man behind the Offsite/Onsite SIPs Volumetric factory model. “We believe our approach can help the Government meet its target and give people the homes they deserve.”

Local Authorities, Social Housing organisations, developers and others interested in discussing with LCC, the opportunity to provide more affordable homes in their area, should contact the company on 023 92 160075 or email info@lowcarbonconstruction.co.uk

This blog has been written by Bill Randall, former Leader and Chair of Housing Brighton and Hove City Council, who is working as an adviser to LCC.

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    1. John McKee says:

      Sounds great. I look forward, very much, to hearing about this initiative proceeding (there must be a catch!). The build method, and the specification, are both perfect for our present times and our national circumstances. I will try to find out what sort of foundations are envisaged, if not concrete.