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Modern methods of construction - more than just a pace race

By Adam Challis

  

It all started with a dream. That's how imagine it anyway. 

The inimitable Tom Bloxham and the irrepressible Jonathan Falkingham, back in 1993, were ready to take on the world of property cynics by rescuing the North of England’s decaying heritage to make urban living an attainable aspiration. 

“It will never work” said the people, as highlighted in the eponymous 25-year retrospective that toured the country last year. Except it did.

Fast forward and that historic ambition is even bigger and bolder. Leading the modernisation of a housing industry through off-site manufacturing couldn’t be further from heritage preservation. I doubt this pairing has ever sat on their laurels. 

There are many elements to the recent tie up between developer Urban Splash’s House(an innovative range of modular build homes), Japanese housebuilder Sekisui House and Homes England that are exciting. Urban Splash’s new concept of homes has recently launched in New Islington, Manchester and further modular homes are being built across the nation. 

So, what’s exciting about this joint-venture? Best in class mid-cap developer scaling to compete – possibly disrupt – the dominance of the PLC housebuilders. International know-how going back half a century to ensure the domestic industry is getting it right from Day 1. HM Government backing through a £30 million packaged of debt and equity – in itself, setting new precedence and investment confidence from Homes England – also fascinates me. But I want to focus on one easily overlooked part of the deal. 

In the pace race towards higher quantities of homes delivered, we must keep the other eye on quality of product. House by Urban Splash will exceed expectations in my view. 

Urban Splash has a name for quality. Different by design, better by belief. In a recent conversation Jonathan pressed upon me the importance of a mindset that starts by understanding the needs of the future homeowner. Might sound a bit obvious, but in UK housing it doesn’t happen often enough.

That matters because it puts customer satisfaction at the core of what gets built. As House by Urban Splash scales up, I want to know that the same quality of product that Northerners have come to know is experienced by the rest of us. Modern Methods of Construction might lead people to think that more standardisation is an inevitability. In fact, it enables mass customisation and the unattainable idea of a ‘Grand Designs moment’ for the mainstream. 

“Like open plan kitchens?” – “Yep that’s fine”.

“Rather have the sitting room on the top floor to enjoy the views?” – “No problem.”
 
Mass customisation is not only realistic but is being delivered by Sekisui House every single day in Japan. In fact, with nearly 60 years of experience manufacturing homes, we’re playing fast and loose with the word ‘modern’. UK housebuilding desperately needs this best in class experience to make sure that our industry meets standards on safety, security and sustainable high-quality design. Building in an earthquake zone means a particular knowledge on how to make buildings that last.

I for one look forward to seeing what this blend of creativity, customisation and quality might mean for UK housing.