Gone are the days when off-site construction meant wobbly portakabins and micro homes created from shipping containers. And just as the pace of change has picked up, so has the desirability.
Garden offices and studios pods are of increasing popularity, especially as the cost of stamp duty often exceeds the cost of the new room. A pod in the garden could also be used as a good Airbnb revenue-raising venture, while congested school sites could erect a new sound-proofed music room or light-filled art studio in a matter of days.
More recently, the UK holiday market has been transformed by the exponential rise in the popularity of yurts and shepherds’ huts. In the near future we expect to see luxury pods sited in locations specified by their guests. For example, a secluded area with a fantastic view one week, or closely situated to accommodate groups of friends the next, perhaps with catering and home entertainment pods as part of the temporary cluster.
Unsurprisingly pods are likely to be popular with event organisers too. In fact, a prototype unit designed by The Future Bureau has been bought by a wedding venue operator and is to be installed as a bridal preparation suite.
It is no coincidence that the increased interest in modular construction coincides with a skills shortage in the construction industry, demands for a reduction in construction waste and a need for increased speed, efficiently and profitably. The technological revolution is also a factor, as robots and CNC-controlled technologies could be used in manufacturing.
Probably the greatest potential benefit of pods is their ultimate flexibility. This includes the ability to transport them, orientate them to the sun or shade, put them into storage when not in use or reinvent them.
The planning situation is not straightforward as inevitably owners will want to site pods in potentially sensitive environments. However, in some areas, the units could be sited on a temporary basis, for up to 28 days a year, without the need for planning permission.
Where planning permission is required, various technical assessments may be necessary to consider the impact of the development on, say, local ecology, the landscape, heritage and highways.
It has been said that future property development won’t be built, it will be manufactured. While The Future Bureau is currently concentrating on the hospitality industry, it has one eye firmly on the wider opportunities offered by modular construction, especially in terms of affordable housing.
Certainly the time has come to ditch the pre-fab comparisons and embrace the substantial benefits that modular construction brings.
Peter Edwards is a partner at Carter Jonas and a chartered town planner with over 30 years’ experience. He provides planning and development advice to private sector clients.
This article was first published in Planning & Development Insite Summer 2019 edition, click here to download the issue.