What’s stopping us from going modular?

Traditional approaches to housebuilding don’t seem to be fixing the housing crisis, so does modular construction hold the key? Jonathan Rickard, Head of Land and Planning, shares his thoughts…


If the saying about necessity being the mother of invention holds any truth, the way we build housing is ready for change.

The challenges the housebuilding sector faces are persistent and long-standing and there appears to be widespread recognition that new approaches are needed to address these.

In the areas where I work in the south east of England, problems posed by the housing market are particularly keenly felt.

House prices in some areas are more than 10 times average income levels and continue to rise. Despite a recent increase in housebuilding rates, there’s a long way to go before the shortage of new and affordable homes is addressed.

The sector also has a significant skills challenge, which could be exacerbated by future changes to freedom of movement legislation. This was highlighted succinctly in the recent Farmer report.

These factors, and many others, create conditions for new methods of delivery which could bring about a step change in housebuilding rates. The government recognises this in its white paper, which calls for different ways of construction and new entrants to the market.

It continues to be acknowledged that the market is ‘broken’, and can’t be fixed by using the same approaches as before.

So, what’s to stop this from happening? Why are we not seeing more people and organisations like mine embrace different construction methods? And if not now, when?


Modular methods could hold the key

These are the questions we are looking at when exploring innovative and realistic ways to build the homes that people need.

We have a building programme of 600 homes a year and want to deliver more. Increasing this with limited resources and a challenging labour market will be a stretch without a willingness to change.

This is one reason why we’re looking at modular – or off-site – construction to step up delivery rates.

These are homes designed and fabricated in factories and put together on site in a fraction of the time, so it is no surprise that modular housing is winning the ear of many in the industry over recent months.

It’s proving popular in areas like London, where the traditional housing market is out of reach for huge numbers of working people.

And it’s why we’re talking to various companies involved in manufacturing modular homes and looking for areas in which this could work.

It’s something that has huge potential in many of the areas in which we work, where house prices are high and young families are looking for a flexible, affordable option.

Whilst there remain questions before we find a partner and sites, and it may feel like we have been here before, I’m hugely excited by the possibilities that the growth in this market presents us.

I’d say that we’re some way from starting to make visible progress in this area, but it is our intention to use modular construction as part of a blended  approach to deliver a mix of homes for our residents provided that it delivers quality, time and cost benefits (both capital and lifetime costs).

Whilst it would be foolish to predict what the future holds for housing providers, I am sure that those waiting to get on the housing ladder or into a home they can afford will welcome this change.