Modular construction releases otherwise unviable small sites, says city council chief

Modern construction methods are allowing Birmingham City Council to deliver homes on small sites that would otherwise remain undeveloped, a conference was told today.

Richard Cowell speaking at the conference yesterday
Richard Cowell speaking at the conference yesterday

Birmingham City Council assistant director (planning) Richard Cowell told delegates at the Planning for Housing event, organised by Planning, that the city was increasingly having to look to small sites to help meet its housebuilding objectives.

"We are running out of land," he said. "We have got to think more creatively about how to use that land".
The city has a lot of backland plots and infill sites where issues such as impact on neighbours make traditional construction methods non-viable, he added.

However, modular homes can be put up on such sites without encountering the same problems, he said. The city council aims to build 1000 social homes on 300 small sites over the next decade, he added.

However, Cowell said that any authority proposing to intensify the use of modular homes in its area faced " a big challenge of getting over perceptions". The Birmingham homes had initially been controversial, he admitted. But they had subsequently "captured the imagination of the city".

Birmingham City Council has been at the forefront of a wave of authorities that have returned to running their own housebuilding programmes. Cowell said that such schemes not only provided much-needed council homes, but also de-risked private development. "Our council homes have created an environment in which others can invest," he said.

Cowell added that purpose-built co-living schemes, in which residents share communal space such as living rooms, had a growing role to play in Birmingham.

High density housing beyond the city centre also has a key part to play in helping Birmingham to meet housing need, Cowell said.


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