What chance a modular homes factory in Scotland? Steve Cole

The chances of a modular homes factory being set up in Scotland? After being recently quoted imagining factories popping up all over the UK (here), Steve Cole, director of Make UK Modular, is hopeful

WHEN it comes to setting up a factory to build houses – like a car assembly line – it’s helpful to have some guarantees already in place

The first we know about: when it comes to design flair, drawing up what a factory needs to produce housing, the United Kingdom is blessed with an abundance. Factories up and down the country – whether producing cars, footwear or tins of baked beans – are well versed in the complexities and nuances required when designing and staffing a production line.

In Scotland, in particular, there is an additional skillset to potentially draw upon: it has a well-established wall panel and timber frame industry. Okay, so wall panels such as Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are not house panels (which are a bit more sophisticated and complicated), but it’s at least a start.

As far as I am aware, Scotland does not have a major modular housing factory, but it could have, assuming some pre-conditions are in place.

The country’s commitment to delivering tens of thousands of low-carbon ‘affordable’ homes – 110,000 by 2032 – could be a basis for underpinning the prospects for modular (aka factory-made) housing.

A factory is established to deliver at a certain capacity. It cannot operate on iterative demand, ones and twos, as traditional housebuilding (which is still essentially hand-built) might.

The biggest factories in the UK such as Ilke Homes and Legal and General Modular Homes, both in Yorkshire, are each aiming to deliver 4,000 homes a year.

The benefits of factory-made housing should be a no-brainer for the Scottish Government. 

Firstly, speed of production is faster. At Make UK Modular, our data shows 50 per cent faster than on average. That is a major consideration for anyone building rental homes, be they for ‘affordable’ housing (people off the council waiting list faster) or for private rent (rental income in faster)

Second, factory-made housing massively reduces the amount of waste created by the construction process with a reduction of an estimated 90 per cent, crucial in this era of high inflation and material shortages. 

Third, the potentially exacting and controlled tolerances of the factory environment can ensure houses delivered to extremely high energy-efficiency standards (we estimate 55 per cent more efficient than on average).

In simple terms, modular housing is an effective response to seeking to become net (carbon emissions)-zero.

But it’s not just the climate challenge, it’s also about the labour market. At current rates, we simply might not have enough people to deliver housing built to traditional methods in the future. The construction labour market is shrinking – mainly due to retirement – with not enough young people (particularly women) coming in, to make good the difference.

Modular homes factories operate on relatively low staff numbers, which will have a positive knock-on when it comes to costs, and therefore prices, to consumers.

With more than 10,000 homes in the pipeline for 2025, sector capacity is ramping up rapidly.  ‘Smart money’ is already on board, with more than a billion pounds estimated to have been invested in new facilities and R&D in the last decade.

It would be great to see Scotland seriously explore establishing its own modular homes factory. It has an abundant supply of timber (I am not qualified to speculate of what quality or quantity, but it’s a thought). 

It also has a pipeline of demand (not only has it an ‘affordable’ homes target, there is an additional recognition of a general shortage of homes).

Marry these together, and we just might have the necessary pre-conditions.

Make UK Modular is well-positioned to perform a co-ordinating role, gathering data as to who might wish to be part of a customer base. It has also members, many of whom I am confident would be willing to share their expertise and experiences, with perhaps one of them willing to actually establish their own factory in Scotland.

It might be only a matter of time.

Steve Cole is director of modular homes representation organisation, Make UK Modular.

Picture credit: Legal & General Modular Homes

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