New homes could be built for 40% less – in line with build costs in continental Europe – if groups of housebuilders agreed to work to standardised dimensions including floor-to-ceiling heights and staircase sizes.
The plan is outlined as part of the Popular London Home Initiative, a report by consultancy Urban Initiatives written with support from six London boroughs, as well as contractors Bouygues and United House and residential developer First Base.
Housing associations Gallions, Notting Hill and Places for People were also involved in the report, which was presented to the Greater London Authority in September.
The shared “parameter book” would offer design choices within a set menu, helping to boost demand in the offsite manufacture [OSM] supply chain and leading to faster build times and a drop in prices.
The team hopes the semi-standardised design approach will be backed by Richard Blakeway, mayor Boris Johnson’s deputy for housing and property, and taken up by housebuilders in pilot developments across London next year.
Urban Initiatives chief executive Kelvin Campbell said: “It’s about how we can fast-track delivery, and get to a construction standard that enables us to move forward. At the moment housebuilders start from first principles, so they’re not building up efficiencies. We’re proposing the equivalent of the MP3 format – it became the standard the music industry followed, letting everyone work together.”
“You can achieve efficiencies through standardisation of elements, and structure. But you need the industry to be working together on developing a common platform. All the housebuilders have tried to develop their special way of doing [OSM and MMC] – the country is littered with prototype housing but no one ever adopts them.”
The report argues that other benefits would flow from the adoption of common “building blocks”, including faster design and construction time, and less time spent in the planning system. It would also make housebuilding more accessible for new entrants, and address the current reduced capacity of the sector.
Asked whether the degree of collaboration required would prove difficult for UK housebuilders, Campbell said that such a system already exists in the Netherlands, where 40% of new housing is built using standardised components and systems, but by different contractors.
Campbell hopes that the Greater London Authority will give its backing to trial projects in the 2013, which he says could involve a number of developers delivering 300-600 homes across the six boroughs involved in the study.