Precision Manufactured Housing

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 29th July 2019.

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Photo of Nicky Gavron Nicky Gavron Labour

Last month you launched the #PRISM App, a global first Digital Design tool for designing Precision Manufactured Housing. This will allow developers, manufacturers and designers to assess the viability and best use of each site for Modular Housing.

Will you require the use of PRISM when you commission work on some of the Land you own?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I am very pleased that City Hall has been able to support the pioneering new PRISM app to promote precision-manufactured housing. As you know, PRISM is open-source and free to use and it is the first city-wide tool of its type anywhere in the world.

I was also very pleased, Deputy Chairman, that Assembly Member Gavron was able to join my Deputy Mayor for Housing [and Residential Development, James Murray] at the official launch of PRISM last month. Assembly Member Gavron has consistently taken a lead in encouraging precision-manufactured housing in London.  Her research on behalf of the Assembly has made a critical contribution to the debate and promoted the development of PRISM.

Precision manufacturing describes a system of home building that relies on individual components being manufactured in a factory, transported to a location and then completed and assembled on a site. This contrasts with traditional construction, which involves the structure and components of the home being developed onsite, typically using bricks. Developers or architects can use PRISM to sketch out an initial design and then this information is used by manufacturers to help them design a suitable approach. We know that the construction workforce is ageing, which means it could reduce by up to 25% within a decade, so this is a real opportunity in this area.

The response at last month’s launch event underlined that this is something the industry has been crying out for. I believe we should let the new tool be tried out and become embedded in the sector before making its use a formal requirement for particular sites. However, we will keep working with homebuilders on sites where the GLA has an interest, as well as other sites more widely, to encourage the use of PRISM and help give precision manufacturing of housing the further boost it needs.

Nicky Gavron AM: Thank you, Mr Mayor. I want to congratulate you for your leadership in commissioning and then having the app created, the digital design tool. I recently trailered it before it was launched at an international conference of cities from all over the world. They all wanted to have it and they can. They can because it is open-source and because it is free but, as your office has recognised and as the report the Assembly did recognised, there are barriers. Although the industry is poised for a step-change in delivery, there are these barriers.

One of the main barriers is the lack of interoperability or standardisation between different modular or factory‑built systems. PRISM of course helps overcome this. There is also another barrier, which is that at the moment developers often think about modular homes rather late in the planning development process, when in fact the whole advantage of manufactured homes is compromised in terms of speed, quality and cost.

PRISM allows you to design it in and configure your layout of modular homes from the outset. You can even do it before you have bought the site and it takes about quarter of hour, apparently, and there is no lengthy and costly assessment, so it is very easy for developers and contractors and our own people in TfL and so on to see if it is going to work on a particular site. I was wondering, continuity of demand is also important.  PRISM will help with the volume, but only you and the rest of the public sector really - and of course the private sector and your joint venture partnerships - can help with the demand side.

I was just wondering how you are going to work with your housing associations, your strategic partnerships in actually to a certain extent making sure there is use of this.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Again, thank you for what you said in your question as well. The good news is James Murray, the Deputy Mayor for Housing [and Residential Development], and myself met with a whole host of developers this week. Mr [Mark] Farmer [Chief Executive, Cast] was there, who has been responsible for a lot of this work, and this came up as well. Some of the projects we are funding are supporting this sort of work. We have reached deals with Pocket Living, Apex, Airspace and Place which will support the delivery of new affordable homes built with precision manufacturing methods, so we are supporting the market in relation to doing so.

Through our Land Fund that I set up, we are also in contract with Swan Housing to develop six small sites, many of which will be manufactured in Swan’s own cross-laminated timber factory in Basildon.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

We are doing this to try to support the market. I suspect that once some start going up, it will give confidence to others to do this as well, but we are doing our bit to support precision manufacturing. It is part of a package of measures we are doing to improve the diversity of the workforce as well and to encourage others to get involved in construction as well.

Photo of Nicky Gavron Nicky Gavron Labour

Thank you for that.