Blog: The future of homes for social rent: How modular provides Scotland with a solution to social housing challenges



Scape Group chief executive, Mark Robinson, on the Scottish Government’s fresh investment into affordable housing and the barriers needed to overcome for delivery.

Mark Robinson

Scotland is facing a huge shortage of homes for social rent. There are currently over 130,100 households on council waiting lists and whilst the Scottish Government aims to deliver 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 for social rent, by 2021 at the current rate of delivery it will take over 30 years for every household to be given a home. Demand for social housing available to rent in Scotland has reached breaking point and local authorities responsible for delivery are concerned, as are the public.

But while industry experts and the government have recognised the need for genuine structural change, the country is still failing to adapt and change at the scale and speed that Scotland needs.

In the recent Budget, the Scottish Government committed to invest £825m towards its pledge to build 50,000 affordable homes, including 35,000 social rented homes, in this Parliamentary term. But barriers to delivery still persist.

As it stands the average local authority in Scotland has just 101 homes for social rent available to help people on waiting lists. The burden of delivery is increasingly falling on Housing Associations to deliver social rented homes, but last year in Scotland 160 Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) built just an average of 19 homes for social rent. The homes they are building are also very costly. The average cost per unit for an RSL to build a new home over the five years to 2016-17 was £130,000, up eight% on 2015-1615.

This isn’t the only problem. Since the financial crash in 2008, the UK construction industry has become increasingly reliant on workers from the European Union (EU) and latest figures show that the number of workers in the UK from the former Soviet bloc fell by 154,000 in the past year, this is especially concerning given that 59% of the total number of EU citizens living in Scotland are from the EU8 (Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia).

Scots are aware of the problem. When polled, 48% of councils expressed concern about the number of social rented homes being built in their area and our research found that they would like to build eight times more homes. A separate survey of 1,000 Scottish adults revealed that 87% are ‘very concerned’ by the lack of social housing for rent in Scotland.

So what is the solution? We believe that the answer is to take the remaining responsibility for the delivery of new homes for social rent out of the hands of RSLs and to hand it over to local authorities who have long-standing experience of building homes for social rent.

But we would still need to overcome two major obstacles, the skills shortage in the Scottish construction industry and the lack of human resources dedicated to council house delivery within local authorities.

This is where Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) comes in, allowing councils to build up to four times as many homes with the same onsite labour required for one traditional build.

MMC include, but are not limited to, panellised units produced in factories and assembled onsite, volumetric construction to produce modular units in factories prior to transport, floor or roof cassettes, pre-cast concrete foundation assemblies and pre-formed wiring looms.

Modular homes can be assembled with relative ease and alleviate many of the challenges the traditional housing market currently faces. Crucially, factory-based production does not generally draw from the same labour pool as on site construction, so is not competing for the same skills.

But arguably the biggest advantage of using MMC for housing is its speed and efficiency. Modular and offsite construction can provide programme savings of up to 50% compared to traditional forms of construction. And unlike on traditional building sites, the unpredictable Scottish weather does not have to be factored in. In 2018 severe weather conditions such as ‘the beast from the east’ meant that the number of new houses registered to be built in the first three months of the year fell by 14%. Modular can side-step external factors.  

Our research found that both council officers and the public are interested in the benefits of Modern Methods of Construction. Half (48%) of those surveyed want to minimise the amount of time spent on site. In addition, nine out of ten members of the public (88%), who often experience the biggest impact from construction, think it is important to reduce the amount of time spent onsite.

We have heard it before – there is no one solution to fixing the UK’s housing problem. A whole toolkit of solutions is necessary, but the use of modular building specialists must sit at the heart of this. With Brexit just months away and the tap on European workers about to be turned off, the time to act is now. Local authorities must innovative to stay ahead and to build at the rate the country needs.

The full report, The Future of Social Homes for Rent in Scotland, can be downloaded from scapegroup.co.uk/research.

Tags: Scape Group



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