Homes fit for the future

Ian Batchelor, Director of Construction and Building Services at ODS, argues for a revolution in social housing with a focus on innovative design for eco-credentials and community-based living

The UK builds, on average, only 6,000 new social homes each year; and with a 2019 report from housing charity Shelter predicting that the UK will require an additional 3 million affordable homes by 2040, it’s plainly obvious that the current build rate simply won’t meet demand.

A further report stated that the UK is haemorrhaging social housing – 1.15 million households are currently waiting for a social home in England, which marks a 4 per cent increase on last year. It detailed that there are over 17,000 fewer social homes available, 23,740 were sold or demolished – and last year, only 6,287 were built.

It almost goes without saying then, that both central and local governments must urgently re-evaluate their plans to build more affordable housing. More than that, it’s also time to embrace a new method of building, one that also adheres to new and important legislation on environmentally sustainable construction.

ODS (Oxford Direct Services Ltd) is a LATCo or Local Authority Trading Company; a social enterprise inspired company wholly owned by Oxford City Council, allowing the council to put profits back into the community. As a local authority service provider, we are assessing, planning and building for the social housing shortage in and around Oxford. We think it’s imperative that the future of environmentally responsible home-building must look to modular construction and other modern methods of construction (MMC), both to bridge the gap between demand and delivery, but also to tick the low carbon, sustainability goals outlined by central government for new homes.

ODS is well placed to comment on the future of social housing as experts in constructing energy efficient buildings. The members of our team are from construction backgrounds, so we are all construction professionals who have built with MMC on previous projects; we know the best market leaders out there; we know the people delivering successful contracts; and we see who is performing best in the marketplace whilst hitting government targets.

In fact, ODS has recently actioned the use of ‘Oxford Model’ modular construction to plan eight new social housing bungalows for the City Council, alongside two other residential modular projects. And whilst ‘Oxford Model’ is a term we use to describe the business services that we provide for the council whilst also giving back to the community, it also references the focus our construction team has on these type of modular eco-build contracts and projects. These homes provide a clear example of our objectives within the Oxford Model, being planned as low carbon, environmentally friendly new builds which will be built largely off site before installation. These construction projects can also be completed up to 25-50% quicker than traditionally built homes.

The Oxford Model bungalows will be in three locations across Oxford, utilising space occupied by disused garages and play areas on Broad Oak, Mortimer Drive and Bracegirdle Road. Building on these spaces will present some problems, but it’s right that we make use of these ‘disused’ sites for social housing, and especially the need to address demand for single-storey homes for disabled tenants – which are always in short supply for those who need them.

One major challenge is that the sites are small with difficult access in residential areas, which requires them to have a low impact on neighbours during and after construction. Off-site construction is a straightforward solution for both challenges and due to the limited access to each site a panelised system for the structure offered a workable build solution. They are as robust as traditional houses, but the factory environment also allows for better quality control and risk management. MMC also ticks the box for fully insulated eco-materials which will keep fuel bills very low for social tenants.

Other design features include a solution that we proposed which achieves high SAP rating with an EPC of 99 and Zero Carbon, Photovoltaic Solar Panels, Air Source Heat Pumps, triple glazing and high air tightness.

These will be affordable, low-carbon, high quality, fast build projects, which is what everyone needs to be doing more of. Now we’ve got a solution that we can deliver in volume and on budget, and which will soon be visible as working examples of MMC used for social housing – rates should increase.

And in reality, if we look at the practicalities of what we have to achieve as house builders in Oxfordshire over the next 10 years, it’s simply not feasible to meet the targets any other way than embracing modular building methods.