Origins of a Solution? Heading up the supply chain

Published Thu 28 Sep 2017

Our research into off-site manufactured housing has taken in much of the UK's best practice over the last three years, but never back to the source of the materials themselves. Our Design and Innovations Director, Dominic Spray, spent a couple of days with other industry figures at the forefront of the timber revolution just outside Vienna, in the Austrian mountains. Courtesy of our friends at B&K Structures, the trip took in the Rubner Holzbau GLULAM plant, Stora Enso’s timber facility and the city itself. This is the first of a number of posts on a topic which is rapidly becoming integral to the industry's ability to deal with the ever-increasing need for housing...

Although we've been working in off-site for a few years now, we haven't headed all the way to the source before. This gave us a proper sight of what could - if as an industry we could commit to it definitively, form an integral aspect of the solution to our housing crisis.”

Dominic Spray

Design and Innovations Director

"Researching volumetric, GLULAM and hybrid solutions has taken us to some interesting places, but none quite as beautiful as this. We're interested primarily in how the logistics relate to London, as that's where we're most active - but we are also looking at its use in the wider UK market. Our Bristol scheme will be submitted for planning soon, and that city has a great reputation for its green agenda; that’s why we thought it would be the perfect place to roll out such a sustainable solution. Before that is delivered, we wanted to see this initial phase of the process in action. Instead of limiting the research to the UK, we thought we’d follow the process to source, and take a look at the source of a solution that we, as an industry, could commit to and form a sustainable and progressive aspect of the solution to our housing crisis.”

Images: Right - Rubner Holzbau; Left - Stora Enso

When we first began to look at off-site manufactured housing, there was an assumption that timber from the forests of the UK alone could make a significant dent in our housing numbers. But some fairly straightforward calculations meant that we saw very quickly that resources are going to need to be pooled. As well as drawing from the huge amounts of expertise on mainland Europe, there is obviously a huge amount of the actual raw materials needed there. If we look at the numbers, London alone needs between 40,000 and 60,000 homes per year. Traditional housebuilders and developers are at capacity, but it's delivering around 50% of this requirement. The wider UK need is actually closer to 200,000 homes. If we’re going to impact on this at all, we’re going to need a whole lot of timber, and it’s going to have to come from a wide range of sources. That’s why we’re expanding our supply chain and meeting the teams at Rubner Holzblau and Stora Enso - to talk through the pros and cons of building with the materials and methods that they know are providing and delivering. on mainland Europe.

Onsite at the Stora Enso facility, September 2017

Making A Commitment

"One of the problems facing the fledgling industry is start-up costs, and the need for forward funding to deliver schemes. The Mayor of London has pledged £3.15 billion in the form of an GLA Innovation Fund, which is being used to bridge funding gaps on schemes in their infancy - this is an excellent starting point, but the need for the advancement of our own off-site construction industry is also of growing importance. In order to really start to tackle the issue, we need more than one approach. We should place ourselves at the source of the solution, and produce as many of the required materials here too, at home in the UK. That's not going to be easy without a confirmed pipeline which can help justify the large start-up costs - but with commitments from both the private and public sector, we can start to move forwards with what could be a manufacturing industry for the UK which can grow at a rate of knots."

Follow us here for more blogs and information on the work we are doing here at @HadleyProperty , including more posts to follow on off-site, modular and volumetric housing solutions

Many thanks to our friends at B&K Structures Ltd for organising and overseeing the trip.