New government challenged to ‘industrial revolution’ in housebuilding

Radical micro manifesto makes construction more like manufacturing and promotes better design standards.


Making construction more like manufacturing and promoting better design standards are two of the key proposals outlined in a radical micro-manifesto demanding the new government keeps the focus on housing, despite Brexit negotiations.

Embracing modular construction – producing modules and pods in a factory environment that then slot together to make a whole building – will be crucial to meeting politicians’ housebuilding ambitions, according to ‘Building our Future’, published by Assael Architecture.

The London-based practice also wants to enforce more rigorous construction standards in order to maintain better build-quality on new homes, saying through greater oversight and design standards, the maintenance costs and snag costs of new build homes could be dramatically reduced.

Insurer Legal & General, government construction advisor Mark Farmer, and Build to Rent developer Essential Living are among those backing the manifesto and urging the new government not to ‘lose sight’ of housing policy during Brexit negotiations.

As well as rethinking construction methods, the manifesto also urges the new government to do more to protect cultural spaces within cities, while also promoting more corporate-backed Build to Rent housing alongside council-funded development.

A number of these policies have already been floated in the main political parties’ manifestoes, but John Assael, chairman of Assael Architecture, warns that because of Brexit, housing is likely to take second-place in legislation.

Assael said: “While Brexit is undoubtedly a huge challenge for this country, we should not lose sight of housing. In all our major cities, giving people the homes they need is proving to be a huge challenge; in a large part that is due to out-dated rules on planning and ailing productivity in the construction industry.

While some progress has been made, in policy and in practice, more needs to be done to ensure that we build quality homes and create vibrant cities that attract the brightest and the best. The idea behind this mini-manifesto was to do just that: keep the current momentum going around housing policy in order to make tangible and lasting change to the market.”

The manifesto – policy recommendations

  • Greater freedom around space standards that consider the new forms of housing emerging in UK cities
  • More stringent construction standards in order to maintain build-quality in the housing market and prevent ongoing maintenance costs
  • A single accreditation for homes built using modular construction to help build confidence in this emerging build technology
  • Having clear, region-wide plans for urban density to help streamline the planning process
  • Government recognition for discount market rent (DMR) as a form of affordable housing within Build to Rent schemes
  • Freeing up more land in cities by reducing the amount of parking space designated to traditional vehicles
  • Allowing councils to borrow for investment in income-earning housing.

They said it

Mark Farmer, chief executive of Cast and author of the Farmer Review: “The recent media focus on construction quality, especially in the housebuilding world, has brought the long-standing debate about ‘cowboy builders’ and consumer dissatisfaction in the domestic housing market, uncomfortably close to commercial real estate developers and funders.

“Many of the problems now being experienced across the board are a direct consequence of capacity pressures with an overall dilution in the standard of design, workmanship, supervision and sign off procedures.”

Bill Hughes, head of real assets, at Legal & General: “The government should consider strategies to incentivise urban regeneration and the development of brownfield sites.

“We need to encourage greater density of build, particularly around transport hubs and in town centres. Using residential development as a catalyst for regeneration, we can bring people back to the centre of our cities, retain talent and boost economic productivity.”

Darryl Flay, CEO of Essential Living: “Our ambition is to create truly aspirational housing at a range of price points.

“The growth and popularity of the Build to Rent sector is welcome as there is a scale of demand far beyond what any single business can provide.

“Successive governments have taken steps to support the sector because they want to attract institutional capital that can build more homes, quicker.

“We hope many of the sensible suggestions of the white paper are taken forward.

“The big untapped opportunity for this market is using public assets to form JVs that could create long-term income streams for councils and public bodies from rent, allowing the state to generate profit without selling off the family silver.”

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