House-builders go indoors

Across the country a new manufacturing sector is evolving as house-building gradually moves away from open-air building sites and into factories.

By Clare Dowdy | Illustration by Ange Hart

House-building illustration

Supported by technology and spurred on by the housing crisis, the off-site manufacture of new homes is on the rise. New London Architecture’s recent Factory-Made Housing report identified nearly 80 off-site manufacturers around the UK. 

Sarah Yates, principal researcher at NLA, says: “The really significant trend is that house-builders and developers are building their own factories. Factory-made housing is the disruptive force in house-building. And a lot of those factories are now starting to deliver in really big numbers.” Not only is the housing landscape changing, but so are the businesses that deliver it. “We are seeing the arrival of hybrid house-builder-developer-manufacturers,” says Yates, “The advantage is they have complete control over the process.” 

According to the Government’s Housing White Paper of 2017, homes constructed off site can be built up to 30% more quickly than traditional methods and with a potential 25% reduction in costs. 

So if these new builders ramp up, they will be able to help with the Government’s target of building 300,000 new homes every year for the next 10 to 15 years. Currently only about 220,000 are going up a year, and, of that annual batch, between 4,000 and 6,000 are modular homes. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK’s industrial sector has increased by 1.4% a year since 1948. The ONS attributes this – in part – to a more skilled workforce; a shift in production from low to high productivity goods; improvements in automation and technology; and increased investment in R&D. Factory-made housing ticks a lot of these boxes, and SEGRO has high hopes for the sector.  

Take-out: This revolution must overcome embedded cautious attitudes, as it forces the building sector to challenge convention and embrace innovation


Alfreton East Midlands

Urban Splash House Factory

In 2017, the developer Urban Splash bought the factory in which its modular houses were being made. The factory uses volumetric modular technology – meaning an entire 3D pod, complete with four walls, a floor and ceiling is created as a unit and delivered to site as fully constructed. It has the capacity to deliver up to 400 homes per annum.

Selby, North Yorkshire

Legal & General

In 2016, Legal & General launched a business to deliver precision engineered homes more cheaply and quickly. The 550,000 sq ft factory makes modular homes on a moving assembly line. It has the capacity to produce around 10,000 modules a year, which equates to around 3,500 homes.

Flaxby, North Yorkshire

Ilke Homes

Ilke Homes is a British modular homes business specialising in off-site manufacturing of good-quality affordable homes, in partnership with housing associations and developers. Its 25,000 sqm factory uses modern methods of construction to build eight modular homes every day. The homes are transported to developments across the country and, once on site, can be installed at a rate of six homes per day. The firm aims to build 2,000 new homes a year within the next 24 months, with plans to scale up to 5,000 homes a year in the next five years.

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