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 05-07 March 2019 / ExCeL, London

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03 Dec 2018

The Future of Offsite: Look no further than modular

Tom Bloxham MBE, Founder of Urban Splash

With new technologies dominating most sectors, housing appears to be the last bastion when it comes to change.

Futurebuild gives the industry a chance to look at feasible ways of incorporating advanced methods of construction, not just to keep up with the times, but crucially to give us better, more efficient ways to create houses – houses which are very much needed in the UK. 

For 25 years, Urban Splash has been a pioneer of change. When we started out in the 1990s transforming Brownfield sites, disused buildings and unloved areas of cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham we were told “it will never work”. Our attitude and resilience got us through, and we created thousands of homes and millions of sq. ft of workspaces in the process. 

Our commitment to design and passion for our work led us to schemes of pretty much all architectural typology –the Georgian Listed buildings at Royal William Yard in Plymouth, Victorian Mills in Northern cities, Victorian terraced houses at Chimney Pot Park in Salford and art deco icon the Midland in Morecambe – through to 1950s, 60s and 70s blocks like Park Hill in Sheffield, Saxton in Leeds and Lakeshore in Bristol.

In 2005, we decided to pioneer another concept – offsite construction, using a modular steel solution to create 102 apartments at Moho (MOdular or Modern HOme) in Castlefield, Manchester. It was fascinating to see how a steel-framed, fully modular production process worked and set my Urban Splash colleagues and I on an exploration in modular. 

By 2012 we put pen to paper with architects shedkm – and it was then that things really started to pick up; 2014 saw our first House prototype on site at New Islington in Manchester, 2016 saw us launch the 43 Houses at that same site – all of which were sold and occupied by Christmas that year. In 2017 we launched more House sites in Salford and North Shields, then by Spring 2018 we really upped our game, buying and vertically integrating the Urban Splash House factory into our business. 

The motivating factor during that time? Our belief that modular’s the ultimate and most viable solution for the UK right now. Compare houses to other products and it’s easy to see the industry’s behind; take phones for example, my first mobile cost me £2k and was the size of a car battery. Now, every time I buy a new phone, it’s cheaper, quicker, better and faster.

It’s the same with cars. I bought the same car 10 years ago, this time it’s 30% cheaper but better equipped. Our new build houses are getting more and more expensive and we believe factory building and industrialisation is a way to change.

We believe in it for many reasons; one, it’s a big move away from the Identikit solutions provided by mass housebuilders in the industry. 

Two, the power’s in the hands of our customers who can each determine the design of their home; our buyers benefit from a series of templates which help them determine the space layout to their choice, as either a 2-storey, 1,000 sq. ft, home, or 3-storey, 1500 sq ft home.

Three, the crucial benefit of modular is that it’s just simply more efficient - we can create Houses quicker in the future. Think about cars, lower value purchases which are created in controlled factory environments – why are houses not done in the same way? Why do we stand by out-dated on site techniques at the mercy of the British weather? (testament to this argument was the ‘Beast from the East’ suspending many construction sites in February last year; we completed our factory purchase that week and watched a House being made in a controlled, snow-free environment!). 

So how’s House fared? Well we’ve now sold, completed and handed over almost 200 homes on sites in Manchester, Salford and North Shields; customers there have already seen increased values in their properties too. Houses at New Islington originally purchased at launch are now selling at well over £100,000 more than they were bought for. 

We’re on the cusp of launching even more Houses at New Islington too, with properties facing the Ashton Canal providing a great opportunity customers who missed out last time. We’re also on site at Port Loop in Birmingham, with sites in Merseyside and Milton Keynes happening too. 

This past year, ‘special editions’ of our Houses have helped us explore other modular layouts – the first have been designed by TV’s George Clarke whose Fab Houses launched at Smith’s Dock in North Shields in March.  

Our commitment to modular means that we are now in a position to efficiently deliver more new homes in a country currently facing a shortfall; propelled by our factory acquisition – which gives us capacity to create hundreds of extra homes per year – we’ve now got a strong pipeline totalling more than 2000 homes across the country; we hope it will help to try and solve our country’s housing shortage.

Urban Splash will be taking part in the seminar programme at the Buildings Hub. They will be offering insight into understanding the objectives and constraints of an offsite approach and exploring the latest innovations in offsite. This will encourage interesting debate around offsite and how the future delivery and construction of buildings needs to be improved in order to deliver the supply of buildings needed.

To get involved find out more about exhibiting at one of the Hubs here

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