There is a widely used saying in this country: if you want a job doing, doing it yourself. Often used when you rely on someone or something else to get a job you want or need done. When it comes to housing, we have relied on the Government for many years to give the home construction sector a kick up the backside to free up supply, make prices more affordable and unlock a generation of people and spending power who are stuck at home. However, the Government has somewhat failed. Year after year it is always behind targets we all know they won’t achieve, and nothing even close to radical is announced to try to resolve the situation.

Perhaps then in this case the saying should go: if you want a job doing, get the Chinese. In fact, that is exactly what is about to happen. Chinese building materials giant China National Building Material Company (CNBM) have announced that they are to build six state of the art prefabrication factories with the sole purpose of building affordable pre-fab homes for the UK. Not a snappy company name, but their ideas and method are guaranteed to change the home building sector. And yes, there will be something for the glazing industry to be happy about too.

The plan

CNBM plan to invest a hefty £2.5bn in building six factories, with four in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland. There will be an additional £250m invested by YHG housing association. It is the Chinese that are funding the scheme, but the technology is being supplied by Spanish building firm Barcelona Housing Systems.

They plan to start building homes before the six new factories are actually built. There are pilot schemes in place which will see 2000 brand spanking new prefabricated homes delivered next year. The six new factories are set to be completed by 2022, and when fully operational should be able to product 25,000 new homes per year. The first pilot project is in Liverpool and planning permission is expected in January.

Even better, these homes will be constructed using British steel. Quite an extraordinary fact when you consider that it was Chinese steel not so long ago that played a part in the British steel crisis which threatened the complete collapse of the sector. The good news continues. Home built in this prefabricated way are set to be 75% off-grid in terms of energy, through use of solar technology and smart energy efficient building design.

This isn’t the first mass home-building entrant to the market. In February of this year Legal & General announced it would build the biggest home-building factory in Europe, which would see 4,500 new flats here in the UK every year. CNBM’s plan however is the biggest of it’s kind in this country by a country mile. It’s going to have all sorts of repercussions.

DGB Brexit

Shaking things up

This news was covered very briefly on the BBC 10pm news on Monday evening. It was easy to miss, given the severity of the headlines and breaking news that evening. However, I saw the report, and the homes CNBM and Barcelona Housing Systems plan to build are no shacks. These are solid, well built, energy efficient, spacious, modern homes. Ideal for a locked in generation that needs an affordable supply of quality homes to get onto the housing ladder. That’s not the thing that’s going to shake things up though.

No, the real news here is the cost. This most modern of building practices is set to change the very structure of home building here in the UK. At the moment, the bricks and mortar approach sees an average home being built for around £1000 per square metre. It’s not cheap. This new method, via the six news factories set to be built, according to the report on the BBC on Monday, will see these prefabricated homes being built for just £400 per square metre. A huge and greatly needed reduction that will hopefully see prices for these prefabricated homes become affordable for all.

The shaking continues. Homes being built this way isn’t all that new. Well, here it is. Around the world more forward thinking countries have been experimenting with the technique and found that the end result is achieved is a vastly quicker time. We’re very much stuck in our ways here in the UK with our bricks and mortar.

But take a look at how they do it in Korea for example:

The Chinese even managed to build a 30-storey building in 15 days:

These videos are a few years old, which emphasises just how far behind the UK is when it comes to modern building techniques. Our fascination with bricks and mortar, ancient building materials, is probably one of the reasons why we’re in this housing supply mess.

Imagine how much more productive and profitable home building in this country could become thanks to more modern building techniques like prefabrication. Cheaper, more affordable, energy efficient and with an endless array of design options, owning your own home could and should become a genuine possibility for many millions of people in this country.

Not only that, this type of building requires less skilled work. Lets face it, UK Government, this one, and previous ones, have never really been that committed to solving the skills and youth crisis that has contributed to the crippling situation we find ourselves in. The amount of labour to physically build these homes would be less than is required with a traditional build. The personnel issue wouldn’t be as acute with prefabricated homes.

And with more home building comes more demand for products to complete the build, such as windows and doors. It’s simple. More homes require more windows and doors, which should see a boost to glazing businesses who deal with larger scale contracts and commercial projects. This is something to be welcomed by UK fenestration.

The one group of people and companies who may feel very uneasy about this development is the traditional house builders such as Redrow, Persimmon and others. Many of these home builders are still entrenched in traditional, very expensive building methods which renders their homes vastly too expensive for many aspiring first time buyers. Prefabrication could be about to make these companies look very dated very quickly, and they should be very worried about that.

For everyone else, this should be welcomed. Chinese investment is a good signal when it comes to foreign investment into the UK, and in return, home buyers will soon have access to affordable, modern, sustainable, energy efficient and quick property.

As I said, shaking things up.

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