We must think bigger to solve housing poverty

The UK’s already started to think beyond constructing tower blocks to alleviate the urban housing crisis. Garden villages are to be built across England, offering 48,000 new homes.

These ready-made communities will have their own identities and facilities – from village greens and halls to pubs, bike trails and shops.

But there are already concerns over levels of affordable housing within these garden villages. In Cornwall those campaigning against an eco town at West Carclaze say they were originally promised 40% to 50% affordable housing, a figure that has since plummeted to less than a third.

These schemes are failing some before they’ve even been built.

But this doesn’t have to be the case. I firmly believe the UK is languishing from an old fashioned building philosophy and legacy processes that are keeping construction costs high. Naturally, these costs are passed on to homeowners and tenants.

I know from experience it’s possible to build a four-storey apartment block in 90 days – around three times faster than current industry timeframes – and deliver huge savings on materials and labour.

This can be done by using prefab modular components made of aluminium or steel as moulds for casting structural components of the building from Reinforced Cement Concrete.

Compared to conventional formwork practices in which timber is used to support until it attains the design strength, using aluminium/steel formwork results in achieving a superior casting quality in terms of strength and finishes in a dramatically shorter time.

This technique can be used to make beams, columns, walls, floors and ceilings. After the concrete within the forms attains the required strength, the series of panels are dismantled revealing a highly uniform, monolithic concrete structure with accurate tolerances and plumb levels.

No further plastering is required on these surfaces due to them being highly finished with metal panels in Light Gauge Steel, which provides excellent sound, thermal and fire insulation.

It results in building, construction and eco-friendly housing solutions of requisite quality and price, within the shortest of time periods known in the industry.

Structures built using this process can be erected either by prefabrication of the component units at a factory with the final assembly done on site, or prefabricated from material inputs at site with subsequent assembly by men on the ground with minimal skills.

In either case, this method of construction and erection, when compared to conventional hollow concrete blocks, or bricks and mortar, results in a significant decrease in the overall time taken for construction, and so a reduction overall labour costs

Though the time advantage varies, in some cases, this method of construction has been completed within 30-40% of the time for an equivalent structure using conventional methods. This is largely due to the reduction in labour on tasks like plastering and curing.

The technique has been validated in customised construction projects. Worldwide, we’ve completed more than 2,000 residential units and I believe it’s possible to deliver affordable London homes for around £80,000. But it’s a construction technique that’s being massively under-utilised.

The UK’s ambition to build standalone villages and towns is a worthy one, but relying on archaic construction methods won’t offer affordability. There needs to be a sea change in the industry to deliver homes at the right price, and plenty of them.