Andrew Boff is a member of the London Assembly.
As we reach the final weeks of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty there are plenty of successes to point to. One area that is still a major challenge is the lack of housing. Boris did much to improve upon the poor record of Ken Livingstone in increasing housing stock in London, having to contend with Labour’s failed policies of rabbit-hutch tower blocks and 50 per cent social housing targets, but he was running from behind. The new Mayor will have to make tackling the housing supply a central priority.
There is no one solution to solving this deep seated problem. Over the last four years the GLA Conservatives have put forward a number of innovative proposals to boost housing in the capital, including making it easier for people to self-build, identifying pockets of public land that could be developed, and the conversion of garage space for housing and small business use. Our most recent effort was recently published in my report “Pop-up Housing: A London Solution”.
It occurred to me that just after the war, the country had made good use of temporary prefabricated houses as a way of temporarily housing people who had lost homes during the intense bombing. Those temporary homes went on to have long lives, and many people across London remember them fondly. If it worked during pressure points in the post war period, could the solution be employed as a way of quickly increasing stock in the 21st century?
Modern prefab or “pop up” homes are of extremely high quality, are manufactured cheaply and can be constructed in a matter of weeks. In my report I suggest these kinds of high quality temporary homes could cut the cost of renting in the capital by a third. Thousands of empty and disused sites across London could quickly become attractive residential plots with clean, spacious and modern homes. Press reaction has been very upbeat, and why would it not, considering the concept is simple, cheap and quick.
‘Modular housing’, as it is known in the industry, has come a long way in recent decades and modern units are indistinguishable from homes built using more traditional methods. My research found these flat-pack style homes meet, and very often exceed, the building standards and safety regulations of traditionally built houses. Additionally, they can be produced at around half the cost and can take just a few weeks to fully construct.
To build a housing estate consisting of 26 two-bed semis and six two-bed apartments, using traditional construction methods, would cost around £2.2m and take one year and two months. A “pop-up” housing alternative would take just 24 weeks and would cost around £500,000 less in cost.
Examples of such developments have shown to be cheaper to rent. In a scheme in Mitcham, pop-up apartments are being rented at £148 per week – almost a third less than the local average market value of £210 per week. High rents have made London unaffordable for a lot of people; any scheme that offers lower rents would be of great benefit for those struggling.
The London Land Commission recently identified space for 130,000 new homes on public land and previous reports have shown there is potential for at least 10,000 homes on small disused sites across the capital. It seems like a no-brainer to start planning for such schemes immediately.
We need to think outside the box when it comes to increasing the number of homes in this great city, and high quality, aesthetically pleasing, modern pre-fab housing could make a significant dent in demand and very quickly. Londoners have waited too long for the housing crisis to be solved.