The factory-built thing

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising

As long as I have been in this industry, there has been talk of factory-built houses, of ways we can reduce the time it takes to turn a plan on an architect’s drawing into a home.

There has been report after report, government initiative after government initiative. Nothing has really quite taken off.

Partly because it’s not actually that easy to build a whole house in a factory, partly because the industry simply hasn’t been geared up to accept it, partly because the house-buying public are still a bit suspicious of anything that might smack of being ‘cobbled together’. Just the other week there was a report that said people are shy of buying new build homes. And they are probably right to be wary – just look at the huge amount of money that Bovis Homes are having to put by to sort out the problems caused by shoddy building work on a raft of their new homes.

The fact remains, however, that we still do not have sufficient homes for the number of people who want to live in them. The fact also remains, that many of the homes we do have are out of the reach, financially speaking of, a great many people. Not just first-time buyers, those starting out on the long haul up the property ladder, either. I know people with good jobs and families who cannot afford to purchase a property in the same location as those jobs. And these aren’t spendthrift people either, with top-of-the-range cars, long-haul holidays every year, the latest gadgets and designer handbags. They are sensible, thrifty people who, simply by virtue of where they work or have chosen to bring up their families, do not have sufficient money left at the end of the month save for a deposit.

Thus far, the traditional housebuilding industry has failed to come up with a solution that works, either to increase numbers of houses sufficiently or more affordably. So maybe the answer is to look elsewhere to solve the issue. The news trickling out of Legal & General’s secret-but-not-so-secret factory this Summer seems to be that they are tackling the problem and that there are housing associations taking note.

The first of the Legal & General Homes were erected for Richmond housing association, RHP in south-west London. Richmond has a problem similar to many others in the capital – and increasingly in other cities –  average house and rental prices far beyond the affordable limit for the people it needs to live and work in the area.

So far, as this Guardian article showed, they aren’t really a solution for families or even couples wanting somewhere for the long term being tiny. And I mean really, really tiny. However, L&G Homes has already thought about expanding beyond this; a development of one-to-four bedroomed properties is being touted on their website for Crowthorne in Berkshire. It’s not built yet, the homes – even the four bed ones aren’t that big – and they aren’t exactly blessed with much in the way of outside space. Also, not that pretty, to my mind. Maybe though, that’s part of the issue. Do we need to put away childish notions of what a home has to look like – think of kindergarten drawings of boxes with four windows, a chimney and a door in the front with roses round the door and a treehouse in the garden – in order to ensure more of us have a proper roof over our heads?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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