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Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors
The British government have announced a new affordable homes programme that is set to change the way properties are built in the country with many being largely constructed off-site, a technique used widely in continental Europe and India.
The first phase of the £23bn programme has been confirmed with an overall target to deliver 165,000 new affordable homes over three years from 2015. Brandon Lewis, Housing Minister said the focus on new technology would provide high quality homes and help the sector achieve the fastest rate of affordable house building for 20 years.
191 providers have been earmarked for funding and the new homes will be delivered across England with almost a third in London. “House building is an essential part of this government’s long term economic plan. That’s why we have designed an ambitious new scheme to build affordable homes at the fastest rate for 20 years, which will support 165,000 jobs in construction and sustain thousands of small businesses,” he said.
In order to achieve this rate of construction, a technique widely used in Europe and India is being adopted which involves off-site factory construction of the major parts of each home which are then assembled on site.
Most house components are factory-made and assembled on site
In India, where there is also a huge requirement for affordable houses, the pre-fab construction technique has proven to have many advantages. Sachin Sandhir, managing director of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) South Asia, says:
“Given the requirement of 26.5 million affordable housing units in India and project execution challenges and shortage of human resources, the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ construction is giving way to prefab structures and materials. Prefab technologies can be used to build homes quickly and cost-effectively, especially as traditional construction costs continue to rise. As the cost of borrowing is steep and developers are facing a liquidity crunch, time means money. Modular construction is faster and adds to the revenue stream of builders.”
Prefab technology involves use of factory-manufactured components in buildings. Some commonly used prefab materials include steel frames for structures, panels made of wood, cement, gypsum and other materials for floors, walls and ceilings, factory-made doors, windows and ventilators.
In large construction projects such as the £23bn UK build programme, various modules of the structure are cast off-site in factories and then assembled on site. In the process, prefab materials such as wall and terrace blocks, wall panels, steel frames and plaster boards are used along with innovations such as the dry-wall technique.
In prefab technology, the entire building can be designed using architecture software. Later, components such as steel frames, walls, ceiling panels and floor tiles can be custom-made.
The components are then transported to the construction site and the structure is assembled. Houses using steel frames for structure can have multiple stories without pillars, beams and concrete. Alternatively, the main structure and outer walls can be constructed using the conventional techniques and inside partitioning and interiors finished with prefab materials.
Prefab construction is highly cost-effective, providing affordable options
This approach to house building has not been widely adopted in the UK to date, although the government’s programme will ensure that one fifth of the homes to be provided will be built with the cutting-edge technique where parts are made in factories before being assembled on-site.
Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury commented that building more affordable homes is crucial to ensuring every family has realistic housing options available to them.
“By investing billions into new housing and cutting out burdensome planning regulations, we are building more affordable homes per year than at any time in 20 years and are also supporting job creation across the country,” he said.
Developers, housing associations and councils that have applied for funding under the programme have been required to show they are delivering new homes that are in short supply in their local area. 77% of the successful bids so far have been for one and two bedroom properties which will allow smaller households to move to more appropriately-sized accommodation.
Included in the affordable homes programme are affordable rented homes and affordable home ownership schemes with the Homes and Communities Agency managing the project nationally with London being managed and allocated by the Mayor and the Greater London Authority.
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