Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Housing of the future

Housing of the future

TWO entrepreneurs believe their plan to build modular houses could help address the affordable housing crisis and climate emergency.

Giles Lovegrove, an architect, and Dave Wallace, who is a business owner, have set up Plan B Housing to create homes which can be extended as the owner’s circumstances change.

The houses would be built on former grazing land, which would be turned into nature reserves with a small number of houses.

The pair have earmarked three sites near Woodcote for pilot schemes and have already built a
60 sq m prototype version in Mr Wallace’s garden in Harpsden Way, Henley. Mr Lovegrove, 47, who is a director at Trace Architects in Hart Street, Henley, first met Mr Wallace when he bought his home in Woodcote from him two years ago.

His firm specialises in the design of garden buildings made from structural insulated panels and the pair discussed the idea of affordable houses made from them.

Mr Wallace said: “We were looking at the way houses are built currently and thought there must be a better way.

“I think it’s really exciting as we’re building bespoke houses around people as their families grow and their lives change.”

Mr Lovegrove, who has 25 years’ experience as an architect, said: “We want to help young people who are getting priced out of their local area.

“The dream of home ownership for the younger generation and those on lower incomes, including key workers, is more out of reach than ever.

“The relationship between house prices and income has created a divide between the generations and a society where only those able to be helped by affluent relatives can aspire to home ownership.

“The problem is particularly acute in rural areas where house price rises have been steeper following the pandemic.”

Plan B Housing would use the panels, which are 30cm thick pieces of insulation between two sheets of wood, to create hexagonal buildings.

A 45 sq m house with one bedroom would be made up of three hexagonal modules.

These could be built offsite and lifted in by a crane, or could be partially assembled and put together on site.

They would be held down by steel ground screws, so no complex foundations would be needed.

A home of this size would cost £150,000. When the owner was in a financial position to extend, they could have another hexagonal unit attached to create a 60sq m house with two bedrooms.

It would then be possible to extend twice more to create a 75 sq m property and, finally, a 90 sq m house with three bedrooms.

The additional hexagonal units could be assembled and attached in just weeks and would cost £25,000 each, making the largest house worth £225,000.

To save time, planning permission for the final three-bedroom house would be sought at the beginning of the process.

Mr Wallace and Mr Lovegrove hope to take advantage of the rural exception policy, which allows local planning authorities to grant permission for affordable housing in perpetuity on land that would not normally be developed, for example, grazing land for a horse.

The development has to meet the needs of the local community by accommodating people who are either already residents or have a family or employment connection.

Such land cannot be bought for normal development so is usually available cheaply, which would help Plan B Housing to keep its housing affordable.

The modular homes would also be designated affordable, meaning they couldn’t be sold on for a much higher price. The houses would take up to half of a field and the rest would be “rewilded” with new planting and the area designated a nature reserve, providing a habitat for wildlife. Where possible, the land would be made available to the public to provide a community amenity.

Homeowners would own a small area of land around their home.

Plan B Housing has sought pre-application advice from South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, on its plans for three modular houses in a field at Cold Harbour, near Woodcote.

Mr Wallace owns the field, which is currently used for grazing.

The council suggested the pair carry out a housing needs survey demonstrating the need for affordable housing in the parish, Goring Heath, to support the application.

The men are also in discussions with landowners about another site in Goring Heath and a third one in Woodcote.

The houses would be eco-friendly as the thick layer of insulation would mean little need for fuel for heating and the internal finishes would not require plasterboard, paint or tiling.

The prototype is rectangular, which was the original design, but the men changed it to hexagonal because these shapes fit together well and people told the men they liked the shape.

Mr Wallace said: “We’re using the pre-application on my field to see what appetite councils have around making bold and brave planning decisions.

“It might be that the site is deemed unsuitable but we hope it opens the door to other places.

“The whole planning system is stacked against this — there’s hurdles at every stage.

“When you look at COP26 and what we need to do from an environmental point of view, this scheme seems ideal.

“We want to challenge the idea that the countryside is untouchable. A field with a horse on it provides no environmental benefit and grazing is known to reduce the land to an ecological desert.”

Mr Lovegrove said: “Affordable housing is mainly being delivered through houses for social rent, with few home ownership options. Where affordable housing has been provided, it tends to be in the least valuable corner of vast new developments and provides small, inflexible units with the minimum amount of external space allowed.

“With swathes of drives, cul de sacs and turfed gardens, these developments contribute to the UK’s dire statistics on biodiversity. The ability to extend the homes easily allows the properties to be viewed as homes for life, encouraging strong community ties.

“But the initial home can be small and hence affordable.

“We don’t expect there to be much pushback. Our schemes are low impact and low density so will not have a significant impact on their localities.

“The rural exception policy is little used due to Nimby pressures and the lack of interest in providing affordable homes.

“We want the council to use this policy. They have declared a climate emergency so now they have to actually do something.

“We want to appeal to local landowners to get on board with this and think about if it would be a better use of their field than what they’re currently doing with it.

“Our approach clearly cannot meet all the demand for affordable homes but it will provide houses over and above what the council can squeeze out of developers to help address the massive shortfall.”

A recent Countryside Charity report stated that the need for affordable homes in rural areas is unprecedented and it would take more than 150 years to clear the waiting lists at current social housing build rates.

• What do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley or email letters@henleystandard.co.uk

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