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December 21, 2016

Pocket Living CEO Marc Vlessing: 2017 set to be big for modular housing

Modular housing, another word for pre-made, factory-built homes, is fast gaining the favour of government as a time and cost-efficient approach to homebuilding and a key part of the solution to the current housing crisis. Small and larger developers across the UK are already demonstrating that pre-made and factory-built is no longer synonymous with ugly identikit homes. Instead these developers are keen on showing off modular housing’s modernist credentials and aesthetic qualities.

The view from a pioneer on the frontline

Marc Vlessing CEO of Pocket Living is one of the pioneers at the forefront of modular housing in the UK. Named one of 2016’s top PropTech influencers, under the banner of construction tech, his property development business, Pocket Living, currently uses modular construction for 20% of its pipeline (that amounts to 159 apartments being built next year). From this vantage point he has a frontline view of how modular-built housing is progressing. Here are his predictions for modular housing in 2017 and what we can expect from innovative small and medium-sized developers pioneering modular schemes.

Modular-built residential will increase

“Modular-built housing is a fast growing mode of delivery which is set to be rolled out to a much greater extent in 2017. Traditionally, modular providers have focused on utility and infrastructure (e.g. schools, hospitals and hotels). However, about 40% of the providers that Pocket has spoken to this year are planning to expand into the mainstream residential market.
This is good news for people currently priced out of the property market as modular homes are typically built 30% faster than traditional ones, and the scale of the UK’s supply shortage clearly calls for homes to be created much more quickly. We expect that the growth of modular in the residential sector will have a positive impact on costs too as economies of scale will drive down the cost of the housing.
20% of Pocket’s current pipeline uses modular construction, this amounts to 159 apartments being built next year. Whilst we are leading the way in this, we do expect other developers to follow with around 15% of homes granted permission in 2017 employing modular techniques.

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Inside a Pocket Living home

SMEs will call on Government for help getting modular developments off the ground

Innovative small and medium sized developers will be looking to see what the Government’s Housing White Paper, currently expected in January, will say about support for modular schemes. The Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid visited the factory that we use in Bedfordshire earlier this year, he and Gavin Barwell are both supportive of modular techniques.
In London, Sadiq Khan made it one of his election pledges to build 50,000 new homes per year to meet housing demand. If the GLA is to get close to this figure then identifying small patches of brownfield land that are ripe for modular development will be crucial.
However, until we find a way to free up more capital for SME developers they will not be able to take full advantage of the modular market. Pocket, like many other smaller innovative developers, will be calling on the Government to support us in our assurances to lenders about modular construction. This is currently a limit on our access to capital and we will be campaigning increasingly hard on this in the New Year. We hope that the Government will announce support for us on this through the Home Builders Fund.”

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The modular ‘hoUSe’ project by Manchester-based Urban Splash

Boost your background knowledge: modular highlights from 2016

To boost your background knowledge on the growing significance of modular housing in the UK, here’s our round-up of modular highlight’s from 2016:

  • London’s biggest housebuilder Tony Pidgley, boss of Berkeley Homes committed 20 per cent of his output to factory-built homes, and plans a bigger amount in future via its own modular housing factory.
  • Urban Splash, a developer that made its name transforming redundant mills and warehouses into hip loft apartments, says it will factory-build up to 80 per cent of its new “hoUSe” design.
  • Marc Vlessing, Pocket Living CEO, pledged that 25% of Pocket Living homes will be delivered through modular construction.
  • Modular skyscraper goes up. Creekside Wharf in Deptford is a 23-storey tower with 249 flats, which developer Essential Living says will be for renters rather than buyers.
  • Research commissioned by Apex, a developer that specialises in building on unused space above existing buildings, says 180,000 modular homes in London could conveniently be created on rooftops.
  • In the borough of Camden alone, almost 500 sites capable of bringing 2,500 new homes have been identified, despite half the borough being covered by conservation areas and a quarter of it by open green space.
  • Insurance giant Legal & General set up the world’s largest modular housing factory in Yorkshire, capable of producing 5,000 homes per year.
  • Contractor Laing O’Rourke now has a state-of-the-art Explore Manufacturing plant in Derbyshire
  • Swan housing association is also opening its own factory
  • Richard Rogers’ architectural practice, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), worked in partnership with Lewisham council, the construction company AECOM and insulation company SIG to create the UK’s first pop-up village in south-east London. It houses 24 formerly homeless families, and has been dubbed a blueprint for factory-made accommodation across the capital and in other cities.

(Modular highlights source)