Modern prefabs the answer the Britain’s housing shortage?


Perhaps one of the most greatly impacting issues of modern day is the current housing shortage. It is a problem nearly all of us have to navigate at one point or the other. Currently, government ministers are considering alternatives to traditional notions of housing. One of the ideas put forward however, does not strike me as particularly ‘new’. I am talking about ‘modulars’ or prehabs as they were commonly known post WW2.

After reading an article in the Telegraph in October entitled  ‘Britain set for a new wave of prefabs to tackle housing crisis’

The article explained a recent and developing government interest in 21st century prefabs. Housing ministers are to take the line of encouraging banks to channel funding towards small businesses who can build houses off-site and then deliver the fully built homes to the intended site. This interest in pre-fabs – now known as modulars – has been born out of the ambitious government plans to deliver on its 200,000 new starter homes during this parliament.

The article instantaneously took my mind racing back to research I had undertaken as part of my undergraduate history degree; the post-war housing crisis in the 1950s. What curious little metal boxes I had thought when my eyes were met with their first image of the temporary housing. As I began reading further into their origins and intentions I became quite impressed.

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, a government white paper suggested that between 3 and 4 million houses would need to be built in the first 10 to 12 years after the war. Pre-fabs were the temporary solution to the housing crisis in the aftermath of the war. There were several different types of prefabs, mainly either timber or steel framed. Developed under the Ministry of Works, prefabs employed systems of production used during wartime for the manufacture of weapons and artillery. Despite their temporality and cold aesthetic, pre-fabs offered shelter and protection to the masses and rather tellingly, were known as ‘palaces of the people’. They offered residents a well-designed interior comprising of kitchen with refrigerator, cooker and water boiler. A toilet with towel heater, a back boiler and a heating. The homes were a much welcome remedy to the housing crisis in the mid-forties.

Though pre-fabs were given a life expectancy of 10 years, many surpassed expectation and some are still in existence today. The updated versions, modulars, have been able to learn from the successes and failures of the prehab housing schemes with industry experts assuring that issues in quality are no longer a concern.

Most importantly, particularly in the eyes of a hard-pushed government of a demanding and under-housed populace, modulars can be put together in as little as 48 hours. Companies such as the Accord Group can put together a three-bedroom house in a day! Watch this space!