[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Prefabricated Housing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:44 am on 4th November 2015.

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Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun 9:44 am, 4th November 2015

It is a pleasure, Mr Owen, to serve under your chairmanship for the first time in a Westminster Hall debate.

I thank Damian Collins for securing the debate. I agreed with a lot of what he said, so there is a risk that he will think that I have cribbed his speech. The debate is timely given that earlier in the week we had Second Reading of the Housing and Planning Bill in the House. We discussed the right to buy in social housing, which I spoke against for various reasons. One thing that was agreed, however, given the right to buy, was the need for replacement housing to be put back into circulation. Obviously, as has been said, prefabricated housing or off-site construction is one way to speed up that process cost-effectively.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the term “prefabricated housing” takes us back to the image of post-war housing. Although those prefabricated houses are now somewhat maligned, I agree that we have to compliment the ingenuity of the time. The houses served a real need, providing housing on site quickly when there was a shortage of raw materials. Also, the people who stayed in those prefabricated homes in general loved living in them, and some remain today, which is a testament to how well the houses were built, although in energy efficiency they no longer serve modern purposes. When I was a councillor with responsibility for housing, adapting that older prefabricated housing to energy-efficient standards was a real challenge, if not impossible. It is therefore good to revisit the prefabricated home with modern technologies for the new house build.

Over the years in Scotland, especially in the private housing sector, there has been a switch to kit houses, with much of the frame built off site for quick assembly on site, speeding up the whole building process. It makes sense that off-site construction has evolved further to provide complete wall panels, which come with insulation or even services included, and modular units.

In off-site construction, “modular units” is a more popular term than “prefabricated houses”, because it does not have quite the same connotation in the imagination. Modular units are now used for schools and offices, and we have heard about a retail development. No one looks at those units and thinks, “Oh, they were prefabricated”, or, “That’s off-site construction; it will only have a 10-year lifespan.” They look and feel permanent and have similar lifespans to traditional builds. It makes sense for modular units to be extended into the housing sector.