The Mayor of London’s most pressing priority is to increase the availability of quality, affordable homes for Londoners. The draft New London Plan released in December 2017 has set out an ambitious target of 65,000 homes built each year from 2019. This target reflects the need to keep up with London’s projected population growth, but also the need to accelerate the present rate of housing delivery, with only six boroughs having met the homebuilding targets set by the previous London Plan. 1
The causes of slow housing delivery are manifold, and the draft New London Plan has identified both where we build (i.e. the land, development and planning decisions which have been the subject of much research) and how we build (i.e. whether current development models and construction methods enable delivery at speed, quality and quantity) as being among the stumbling blocks that have hindered housing delivery in London.
This report looks at how we build, and specifically at construction methods. The UK’s housebuilding sector has been very slow to innovate, compared both to other sectors and to other countries. We still build homes using labour-intensive methods of bricks and mortar, while construction elsewhere has been characterised by rapid change and radical innovation. But with consistent demand for traditionally built houses, volume housebuilders have had little incentive to do things differently.
All this may be set to change for a number of reasons. As London’s housing crisis has intensified, homes are being built by new entrants to the market – including commercial developers, build-to-rent investors and local authority companies – who are less wedded to traditional methods and have tangible incentives to innovate. As targets have risen, more attention is being focused on the speed of construction and build-out rates. The industry also faces a capacity crunch, with a third of its London workforce from continental Europe and 12 per cent of the London workforce due to retire in the next five years. Finally, technology is advancing rapidly, with a widening range of off-site modular and component-based techniques being piloted and adopted. Modern methods of construction (MMC) in housing are coming of age.
This report looks at the potential for innovation in London housebuilding, as well as the interaction between innovative construction approaches and different types of site. Our research considers how innovations in housing construction and manufacturing could improve the speed, scale, and quality of housing delivery across the capital, taking into account London-specific challenges. Building on 18 one-to-one interviews with key stakeholders in the industry – including developers, housing providers, architects, planners, construction consultants, academics, investors and other finance providers – it identifies the roadblocks to innovations being adopted on a wider scale. It also makes recommendations to London’s boroughs, the Greater London Authority (GLA), central government, and industry.
Chapter 1 discusses the current challenges faced by London’s housebuilding sector, including the slow delivery and poor quality of some homes, as well as workforce pressures. Chapter 2 outlines the size and scope of different technologies available, the advantages that their increased use could bring, and the increasingly supportive policy environment. Chapter 3 outlines the level of MMC use in London, looking more closely at challenges specific to the capital, whereas Chapter 4 identifies the barriers currently hindering the increased use of MMC. Finally, Chapter 5 summarises our findings and sets out recommendations for central government, the GLA, London boroughs and industry professionals.