Is prefab housing the best solution to solve city's homes crisis?

An example of a modular housing project in the UK by Norwich company Beattie Passive.

An example of a modular housing project in the UK by Norwich company Beattie Passive. Pictured inset is city councillor Ash Haynes who supports these schemes - Credit: Beattie Passive/Ash Haynes

Prefab housing could be the answer to spiking homeless rate and spilling house prices, according to experts. 

Norwich is in the midst of a huge building plan which will see 42,000 extra homes in the area in the next two decades.

But runaway house prices have already left many unable to raise enough cash to buy their own homes. There is also a squeeze on council house building. 

Modular or 'meanwhile housing' is temporary and easy to move. 

And there is a growing appetite for this accommodation in Norwich with Beattie Passive - a construction company based at Carrow Works - among those looking to provide more "pop up" sites. 

Nathan Beattie, commercial operations manager, said the company is engaged in early discussions with Norwich homeless charity St Martins to provide one-bedroom homeless units. 

Nathan Beattie, commercial operations manager at Beattie Passive in Norwich 

Nathan Beattie, commercial operations manager at Beattie Passive in Norwich - Credit: Beattie Passive

Currently the majority of the modular home projects are providing social housing rental options. 

The homes have a 60-year industry standard life expectancy but have been described as a long-term solution which can last hundreds of years.

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Mr Beattie said: "Modular homes are not being driven by housing reforms but the inefficiencies and poor quality of traditional build.

"There is a massive labour shortage around the UK at the moment as well as a shortage of certain materials. 

An aerial photo of a Beattie Passive project 

An aerial photo of a Beattie Passive project - Credit: Beattie Passive

"We are currently doing a lot of work in Wales but there is growing appetite for modular Passivhaus homes in in Norwich." 

Modular housing can be constructed relatively quickly compared to traditional builds with the groundworks running concurrently to speed up the construction time.

Mr Beattie said a 86sm home can be built in 12 weeks from the Norwich factory then transported to areas where there is the most need for social housing.

Norwich City Council and Broadland Housing Association have recently worked in partnership with groups such as St Martins to build £1.1 million modular flats in Webster Court. 

The block of flats at Webster Court in south Norwich at the end of the third day of construction

The block of flats at Webster Court in south Norwich at the end of the third day of construction - Credit: Newman Associates PR

Six pre-fabricated flats were craned into place with each of the stories built in just one day ahead of the first tenants moving in back in December. 

Now there are calls for the prefabs to address homelessness in the city. 

Webster court flats completed in just three weeks. Pictures: Brittany Woodman

Webster court flats completed in just three weeks. - Credit: Brittany Woodman/Archant

Dr Jan Sheldon, chief executive of St Martins said: "We know there is a housing shortage and that we need to build 90,000 good quality social homes every year to start to address the housing crisis.

The scheme is being delivered by St Martins Housing Trust. Pictured is chief executive Dr Jan Sheldo

The scheme is being delivered by St Martins Housing Trust. Pictured is chief executive Dr Jan Sheldon. Picture: St Martins - Credit: Archant

"The government should be focusing on this objective rather than temporary accommodation which doesn’t give people a sense of security or belonging.

"Modular housing is another form of housing which can last as long as a traditional build and is better for the environment."

Green Party councillors are calling for modular houses to be built on suitable brownfield sites. 

City councillor Ash Haynes (Green) said: "We welcome innovative solutions to the housing crisis, especially ones that can be provided quickly, affordably and with high environmental standards. 

Green councillor Ash Haynes

Green councillor Ash Haynes - Credit: Submitted

"We have local expertise in building Passivhaus modular homes which could and should be utilised to house families and provide local, skilled work.

"It would be essential they were re-sited after temporary use and not destroyed." 

County councillor Ian Mackie (Cons), who represents Thorpe St Andrew, referred to nations such as Canada and the United States successfully making use of modular homes for decades. 

Mr Mackie said: "Modular housing and mixed construction properties are important options to consider to deliver the homes people need.

"Many are advanced and sustainable in their construction and have a smaller environmental impact as well as costing less to buy and heat.

County councillor Ian Mackie

County councillor Ian Mackie - Credit: Contributed

"In Norwich many well built modular houses constructed after the war are still in use." 

Anthony Breach, a planning expert at independent think tank Centre for Cities said modular methods of construction have become more popular compared to 10 years ago. 

He said: "It's a growing sector and an important part of the housing pipeline."

Anthony Breach, senior analyst at the independent think tank Centre for Cities

Anthony Breach, senior analyst at the independent think tank Centre for Cities - Credit: Centre for Cities

But the analyst warned: "The planning system is broadly not particularly concerned with adding up infrastructure to any type of housing whether that is modular or traditional.

"The process micromanages individual sites and goes through a checklist process." 

Norwich City Council and city council deputy leader Gail Harris (Lab), cabinet member for social housing, have been contacted for comment.

What do tenants think of modular housing? 

Danny Wilson, who lives in Mousehold Street in NR3, has recently been served an eviction notice from his house of multiple occupancy due to it being up for sale.

The 44-year-old said: "Any solution has to be sustainable. Low cost temporary housing is a sticking plaster at best.

Danny Wilson, a legal cannabis user living in Norwich 

Danny Wilson, a legal cannabis user living in Norwich - Credit: Danny Wilson

"The house is only one aspect of solving the housing crisis. Pastoral care is ultimately the most important factor.

"If these are meant to be homes I'd expect them to have communal and green spaces for the tenants to have support too if they need it."

Rianne Collins, 27, who lives in a Mile Cross council flat was asked if she would consider modular housing - even for just six months.

Rianne has slept in her car to avoid the noise from the flat above her and the people banging on the windows of her home.

Rianne Collins with her daughter who live in Mile Cross - Credit: Rianne Collins

She said: "Yes definitely as long as they can guarantee I can get another place.

"I'm on the council list now but I am on low band so having to start again wouldn't make a difference."