Interest piece:  Prefabs as the modern housing solution

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!

Q and A with Alannah

Our resident blogger at HMO Services London is called Alannah Thornton, we did a little Q and A to get to know a bit more about her…

What first motivated your interest in writing about London property?

I first became interested in all things housing related throughout my undergraduate degree course in Social History. From the slum clearances enacted to make way for modern housing estates to the introduction of town and country planning, the history of housing policy has impacted our city in various ways. You’ll notice I like to pepper the HMO regulation blogs with occasional interest pieces and more often than not they will have something to do with history!

And what about HMOs?

My first proper encounter with HMO licensing was during my time spent working for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in Hastings. I delivered information to clients who were tenants of some of the worst rental accommodation in Hastings. I also worked with landlords who had issues understanding the HMO regulations and helped them understand the requirements and processes of getting licensed. We were fortunate enough to have visits from the local council to give updates to the team on the changing legislation.

Why does Hastings particularly take such a sharp approach?

Well each council has the right to make small variations in HMO policy and how they would like to enforce it, this has resulted in nationwide discrepancies and confusion. For Hastings, the town’s main growth period was during the turn of the 20th century when the British Seaside was the unrivalled holiday experience. Large three storey properties were erected along the promenade and throughout the town. Many of these properties did not receive the care and renovations they needed throughout the towns decline toward the latter end of the 20th century. Hastings is notorious for poor private rental accommodation, most of the large properties have been converted into flats and many are in poor condition. Hence Hastings Borough Council taking HMO regulations very seriously.

Where do you stand with HMOs?

I feel for the good landlords who are getting penalised heavily for the mistakes of those heavily publicised ‘rogue’ landlords. I understand that the legislation brought in from the government over recent years has but unprecedented amount of responsibility onto landlords. However, with that said, I am extremely sympathetic to the tenants too and can see the reasoning behind councils wanting to impose stricter HMO licensing. A third of total rented property in England is supplied by the private rented sector, the council needs to have ways and means of ensuring standards across the broad.

What would you like to see for the future of HMO regulations?

More clarity! I think national government should take more responsibility over clearly defining the variations on HMO policy across local government. In light of the upcoming changes, I would hope the proposed changes are clearly outlined and landlords and given the help they need to fulfil expectations.

How do you get your knowledge?

Hansard is my main source for parliamentary activity, is also a fantastic source. I keep a close eye on the news and check for updates on local council webpages. My main hangs are property forums; I like to get to know how HMOs are affecting real people as much as what government ministers are planning.