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The modular solution to Scotland’s social housing challenges

Social Housing


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While the Scottish Government aims to deliver 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 for social rent, by 2021, at the current rate of delivery it will take over 30 years for every household on the housing waiting list to be given a home.

In the recent Budget, the Scottish Government pledged £825m to build 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 social rented homes. But this funding is just a drop in the ocean, and barriers to delivery still persist. Faced with an uphill battle, it is more important than ever that the industry innovates to stay ahead, and utilises superior time and cost-effective methods of delivery.

As it stands, the bulk of the delivery burden falls on Registered Social Landlords (RSLs). But last year in Scotland 160 RSLs built an average of just 19 homes for social rent and are failing to build at the rate Scotland needs.

Cost is also a huge problem. The average cost per unit for an RSL to build a new home is a huge £130,000, yet according to the Home Builders Federation, homes in the private sector in England and Wales, where land and construction costs are arguably higher, are being built for two-thirds of the cost at, £90,000.

Many in the industry believe that a quantum shift in delivery is needed. SCAPE recently surveyed 80% of local authorities in Scotland and the majority (67%) agreed they would prefer councils, who have a long-standing history and experience of delivering social housing, to hold sole responsibility for building homes for social rent.

Whilst this drive to deliver affordable housing is commendable, three in every five council officers surveyed said the skills shortage was one of the main barriers preventing them from building more housing in their area. With a no-deal Brexit looking increasingly likely, and the government’s proposed skill-based post-Brexit immigration system guaranteeing to restrict the UK’s access to the EU’s huge talent pool, councils must consider Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) as an immediate solution.

By using MMC, it is possible to build up to four times as many homes with the onsite labour required for a traditional build.

Mark Robinson

SCAPE group chief executive

Modular homes can be assembled with relative ease and alleviate many of the challenges the traditional housing market currently faces. Crucially, factory-based production does not generally draw from the same labour pool as onsite construction, so is not competing for the same skills.

Interestingly, MMC can also provide programme savings of up to 50 per cent compared to traditional forms of construction. One of the largest benefits is greater certainty on timings and cost with offsite construction less impacted by external factors than traditional onsite builds. Even something as simple as the sometimes unpredictable weather can have huge knock-on implications to the build rate on new sites.

However, the opportunities created by modular and offsite construction have yet to be fully embraced. The government, local authorities and the industry must work together to ensure that Modern Methods of Construction sit at the heart of the solution. This could involve a review of planning policy to see pre-approved modular designs ‘fast-tracked’ through the planning system or pieces of land allocated specifically for modular homes. With Brexit just months away and the UK’s accessibility to European workers likely to be restricted, there is no time to wait. There is a real opportunity to use innovative technology that exists today and has proven to be workable, to help solve the housing crisis that faces not only Scotland, but the entirety of the UK. Whatever happens with Brexit, a true step change is required to build new homes that the people of Scotland so desperately need.