OFF-SITE BUILDING CONSTRUCTION – COLLAPSE AND REGENERATION

Off-site construction is back in fashion. Despite its chequered history, social landlords are increasingly turning to the benefits now offered by this method of building to help tackle the housing shortage.

The off-site sector has come a long way. Factory built panelised and volumetric units offer a cost effective and quick solution to house building. In addition, improved quality, reduced waste and efficient building techniques are helping to drive demand.

BENEFITS FOR SOCIAL LANDLORDS

To support this surge in interest, LHC has researched and introduced an Off-site Construction for New Homes framework that will help social landlords tap into the benefits of this house building solution. This framework is LHC’s first foray into the off-site field for a number of years.

However, offsite construction or ‘industrialised building programmes’ as it was originally known, was at the forefront of LHC’s founding work, when we launched 50 years ago.

So why did off-site construction fall off LHC’s framework list before its recent comeback?

For years, non-traditional building methods were considered to be expensive. And other issues, often unjustifiably, did not present the sector in the best light.

Off-site construction was extremely popular following the Second World War where houses needed to be built quickly and cheaply to overcome the housing shortage caused by the Blitz.

New methods of construction were sought to overcome the lack of skilled labour for traditional construction and a shortage of building materials.

POST WAR HOUSING

Factories used in the war effort were often suitable for the production of pre-fabricated housing.  More than 150,000 were constructed. Houses built to last 10 years lasted well beyond creating a negative legacy of cheap and temporary for off-site construction.

Funding of housing over six stories also fuelled the growth of tower blocks using cheap off-site construction solutions. But the sector took a major blow in 1968 with the partial collapse following a gas explosion, of Ronan Point tower block in East London resulting in four deaths.

This led to major changes to building regulations and the standardisation of house design, various types of off-site methods continued in to the 1980s. However, timber framed was becoming increasingly dominant.

That was until a ‘World in Action’ documentary criticised the construction of a small number of timber framed homes in the West Country.  Although research highlighted there was not a problem with properly manufactured and constructed timber framed homes, the programme dealt another major blow to the sector and demand plummeted.

RECENT GROWTH
Interest began to pick up in 2006 when the Labour government challenged developers to build houses for £60k. This is where off-site provided a solution. However, the 2009 housing slump slowed the off-site market again.

Fast forward to 2015 and the market has picked up again. Extensive investment and innovation, supported by tougher regulation, is paying dividends leading to significant improvements in quality, efficiency, sustainability and compliancy.

With these improvements, many social landlords are turning to off-site building methods and it is likely that off-site will be part of LHC’s framework portfolio for years to come.

This article was originally produced in HABM in May 2015.

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