Last edited 08 Apr 2021

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Fabrick Other Consultant Website

The Challenge To Deliver New Homes

This article was originally published in February 2021.


Government’s target of building a million new homes in the next five years was always going to be a major challenge. With the aim to deliver 300,000 new homes a year, it is a concern that recent figures show we have only delivered 161,000 in the last 12 months, made all the more worrying when you consider this is the highest completion figure since 2007. So what do we need to do if we are going to reach our target?

The UK, especially England, is suffering from a housing crisis. Put simply, we need more homes to cope with overcrowding. We are also, once more, suffering an affordability crisis. However, recent figures show that 2019 was one of our best years in terms of new housing completions but we are way off our target.

The number of new homes registered to be built per annum in the UK has risen by more than 80 per cent over the last decade, according to the National House Building Council’s (NHBC) annual new homes statistics. This states that 161,022 homes were registered, making 2019 the strongest year for new home registrations since 2007. But it is not enough.

The figure is an 81% increase on the 88,849 homes registered a decade ago in 2009, but only a one per cent rise on 2018’s figure. If we are to reach government targets, we need to almost double efforts. Admittedly the Covid-19 pandemic won’t have helped over the past 12 months but regardless, we need to find a more effective way to deliver new homes.

In June, Boris Johnson announced the most radical reforms to our planning system since the Second World War in his ‘Build, build, build’ call to arms. The plan is to make it easier to build better homes through new regulations. This will give greater freedom for buildings and land in our town centres to change use without planning permission so we can create new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings. But will this be enough? In short, no.

Converting commercial property or vacant retail units into homes will only go so far. I would also question the quality that these buildings will give us. We need to remember that the construction sector has come under scrutiny recently in terms of quality. A quick fix of converting vacant buildings into new homes feels like a knee jerk reaction. Furthermore, carrying out ‘build, build, build’ doesn’t help – this just implies speed is the more important criteria. What we need to consider is buildability (speed and cost), quality, design and location – in equal measures.

Earlier this month, Oxford City Council announced plans to search for contractors to deliver factory-built sustainable homes as part of a framework worth up to £1bn. In a contract notice, Oxford City Housing Limited (OCHL), which is owned by Oxford City Council, said it wanted to deliver a range of sustainable residential developments with ‘Passivhaus’ principles.

The four-year framework will have a value of £490m over its lifetime for Oxford, but could increase up to £1bn if it is used by other contracting bodies.

This is a wise move and one that I hope is followed by other councils. Offsite is one solution to address the quality issue - with components being factory produced, it is much easier to manage quality. However it will still come down to good architecture, careful planning and a placemaking approach. With the council looking for Passivhaus principles, there is a belief that building performance (and therefore build quality) and design will be key factors. Passivhaus will demand precise delivery to ensure buildings perform as designed and they will require a considered approach to their overall design.

Offsite also has the advantage of speed. It is much quicker and safer to assemble in a factory and deliver to site for erection. It can also provide costs and delivery timescale certainty. As such, this may go a long way to help government increase outputs. So that’s three out of the three boxes ticked, that just leaves location.

Our towns and cities are already overcrowded and as previously mentioned, converting a few commercial or vacant retail buildings is just a drop in the ocean. We need major projects that see the creation of new communities. I have spoken before about the government’s plans to build 23 garden communities across the UK. (click here to see previous blog). These could provide the answer to location.

Garden communities or cities are founded on a number key principles. This includes strong vision, leadership and community engagement and land value capture for the benefit of the community. They need to include community ownership of land and mixed-tenure of homes and housing types that are affordable. They should also include employment opportunities, green space, strong leisure and retail facilities and integrated and accessible transport systems. By the very nature of their name, they feature large areas of green spaces and are typically built on redundant land, therefore opening it up to the public.

Previous garden cities have ticked the box for location as well as quality and design so if we can combine this with offsite construction to drive buildability then we may find that the government’s target of 300,000 homes is achievable.

Now all we need to do is make sure that these homes meet the government’s goal to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The last thing we want is to be having to retrofit low energy technology to homes that are only a few years old…. OK, five criteria – buildable, high quality, great design, appropriate location and zero carbon emissions!

For further information visit www.weareafabrick.com

--Fabrick 16:12, 07 Apr 2021 (BST)

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