What does Boris Johnson’s new Conservative government mean for the public housing sector? Les Dawson, managing director of UK-based ICF manufacturer UNiBLOCK, looks at the challenges the industry faces over the next five years to meet the housing shortfall
After all the controversies of the winter general election, we finally have a new -government. And with a majority of 80 seats, the Conservatives have the muscle to push through Brexit, as well as the other policies outlined in its manifesto, such as the housing strategy.
Notably, the Conservatives have pledged to build at least a million homes over the next five years – far fewer than Labour and the Liberal Democrats. However, further details on the new government’s housing strategy are hard to find apart from various tenancy reforms.
Basic maths suggests that the government should be building around 200,000 new homes every year to meet this target. While most experts think we should be building more like 250,000 homes per year, data suggests that we have only been completing 130,500 per year over the last decade.
Hence, the UK construction sector needs to increase its output by approximately 70,000 houses per year to meet this policy target. Clearly, with a chronic skills shortage and a further potential labour flight due to Brexit, a fundamental change needs to happen within the industry.
ICF to the rescue?
A Modern Method of Construction (MMC), ICF is still relatively unknown in the UK, with the exception being the self-build market. However, we believe that this building technique will play a significant role in delivering new homes for councils, housing associations and private developers alike in the next few years.
We are confident that ICF will become a fundamental building block of the UK’s housebuilding sector. And we’re not just talking; our company, UNiBLOCK, has established its own flexible production facility in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, which will be fully operational within the first quarter of 2020.
Using 100% recyclable EPS as the key ingredient for panels, our products come in a standard size of 2.4m by 0.6m. Utilising the pre-cut option, blocks will be fully prepped and site-ready prior to shipping to site.
Unlike many other ICF suppliers, UNiBLOCK does not use plastic ties – opting for steel alternatives to provide additional rigidity. Thanks to this innovation, walls of up to 10m in length can be constructed without the use of supporting wall structures – adding to the speed and low cost of construction.
With wall widths of between 300mm to 375mm and concrete cores ranging from 150mm to 350mm, UNiBLOCK provides architects and specifiers with almost unlimited choice. This provides huge scope to surpass U-value and soundproofing targets for the building. Weighing between just 15kg to 18kg, UNiBLOCK panels are easy to place and manhandle. This feature reduces the requirement for costly lifting equipment on-site.
The rise in volumetric and modular housing is another reason to consider UNiBLOCK as an alternative to traditional block and brick methods. Moreover, our newly commissioned factory in Scunthorpe has been established to meet the needs of the UK construction industry.
That means we can supply both single builds and major housing or public sector projects with our pre-cut option. Operating three separate divisions: manufacturing, pre-cutting and service, enables us to offer a full turnkey service delivered to site on a just-in-time basis when required.
Utilising UNiBLOCKs pre-cut option can generate significant cost savings during the build phase when compared to established block and brick construction methods.
The future is UNiBLOCK
Unfairly considered a niche housebuilding product in the past, we believe that the wider economic conditions in the UK have created a huge opportunity for ICF. While the impact on housebuilders is obvious, we think that developers of hospitals, schools, universities, hotels and sheltered accommodation should be seriously considering UNiBLOCK’s pre-cut option.
Given its fire-retardant credentials and its ability to create multi-storey buildings, UNiBLOCK’s system is now a serious contender in both the public and private sector building markets. And given the fact that we’ve just started manufacturing product at our modern facility in Scunthorpe, contractors can be sure of a smooth supply of material.
Possibly due to its post-war prefab label, ICF has found it difficult to gain traction in the UK – while countries such as Germany, Norway, Holland and the USA have harnessed the power of the solution for decades.
As the new Johnson government comes out of its honeymoon period, critics will look at the specifics of its manifesto and pass judgement on power’s ability to deliver on its promises. Often termed as a “Cinderella product” within the building sector, ICF could be the Midas touch that the government needs to realise its housing strategy ambitions.
Please note: this is a commercial profile.