Since the post-war peak of the 1960s, which saw 400,000 homes being built in one year, residential construction in the UK has declined. This has led to a serious shortage of private, affordable and social housing which the government has pledged to address by building 300,000 homes per annum throughout the 2020s. That they have so far fallen far short of this target every year is a huge disappointment.
However, the growing popularity in the industry of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) may be changing the residential landscape. Modular offsite manufacturing and onsite assembly enable firms to build homes more quickly, more cheaply and more sustainably, answering all the essential requirements of a modern house building programme.
A fine example of this can be found in Lockleaze, Bristol, where our client Legal & General Modular Homes has been granted planning permission to build 185 homes. In partnership with Bristol City council, L&G will construct a mixture of two-, three and four-bedroomed houses as well as one- and two-bedroom apartments. The site where these modular homes will be situated is Bonnington Walk, to the north of the city centre. Significantly, 51% of the properties will be classed as affordable, with a mixture of shared ownership and council housing. With work well under way, the project is expected to be completed by the autumn of 2022.
The four central values of the scheme as laid down by Legal & General and the council are quality, affordability, sustainability and community.
Modular construction has come a long way from the prefabricated housing of the post-war years. Speed and cost-efficiencies are among the many benefits, but these do not come at the expense of quality. The offsite manufacturing facilities where the modules are made use the most sophisticated digital planning and design technology as well as high-precision engineering equipment and 3-D printing. Because the production process is so tightly monitored, quality control is high and any flaws can be immediately designed out. Modular housing is no longer the poor cousin to conventional methods, but a guarantee of high quality.
Building affordable homes has always been a challenge. Local councils have commonly been reluctant to find the investment needed, while private developments have often committed to only a small percentage of affordable dwellings in each project, because of budgetary pressures. The significant cost savings of MMC alleviates a great deal of that reluctance and pressure, meaning there is less reliance on subsidy and a more realistic pricing structure.
The Bonnington Walk scheme will create some of the most energy-efficient homes in the whole of the UK. They are designed to achieve an energy performance certificate rating of A, which will put them in the top 1%. Not only is the construction process far greener, involving highly sustainable methods with significantly less waste and lower energy consumption, but the finished houses will also be fitted with air source heat pumps, photovoltaic solar energy cells and state-of-the-art insulation. Residents will save money on their energy bills and the environment will benefit too.
The fourth major achievement will be the creation of a new community. Bonnington Walk is not just about housing. The scheme has been designed as a new neighbourhood with lots of community spaces and a commitment to biodiversity. There will be new allotments and green spaces alongside the existing orchard, a local community hub and improvements for cyclists, pedestrians and road-users. It is the perfect blueprint for the thousands of comparable schemes for sustainable housing that we hope and expect to see in the future.