A New Partnership - A Long-Term Vision

Earlier this year Urban Splash announced a deal to bring Japan's biggest housebuilder – Sekisui House – to the UK, helping the developer create more timber modular homes. Urban Splash's Director of Delivery Chris Shaw talks through the partnership, the company's adoption of modular and plans for the future. 

Following a period of creating homes using offsite construction – and vertically integrating the production of those homes into our core business – the hoUSe by Urban Splash story culminated in early summer in a  £90million deal with Sekisui House  and Homes England. It's a deal which  is helping us produce more homes using offsite.

Urban Splash has long positioned itself as a pioneer of modular homes created using sustainable timber products – we actually started developing timber homes using modular techniques in 2012 – working with Liverpoolbased architects shedkm and offsite construction partners SIG to create a prototype modular home for the family-housing market. Initially, we were looking at traditional construction, but then turned to offsite.

 In 2016, after years of R&D and design iterations, we brought the first 43 modular homes to market at New Islington in Manchester under our hoUSe by Urban Splash brand. Core to that brand's offering is Town House which offers customers an adaptable design template on a 1,000sq ft  two-storey property or a 1,500sq ft three-storey property.

To date, we've created Town House at New Islington in Manchester – where all Town Houses are sold and occupied – Irwell Riverside in Salford, again all sold – as well as 24 Town Houses which are sold and occupied at Smith's Dock in North Shields and homes at Port Loop in Birmingham – where 80% are sold following a launch this summer.

But it's time to create so much more! A huge modular wake-up call came in 2016 with the release of Mark Farmer's 'Modernise or Die' report that called for radical changes in the wake of severe traditional construction skills shortages. With vertical integration a big recommendation in Farmer's report, we commenced talks with SIG about buying the modular factory in which our homes to date had been created. The deal completed early in 2018 when we acquired our 85-employee factory in Alfreton in the East Midlands. 

In 2019, we made an even more significant announcement – that we were partnering with Homes England and Sekisui House – and together we're making modern homes more accessible. 

The deal was actually more than two years in the making, during which time our team visited Japan and two of Sekisui's factories to witness an incredible setup. Notable was the company's 750,000sq ft R&D institute in Osaka which features a two-storey earthquake simulator reaching 7.7 on the Richter scale. Sekisui House uses this feature as a sales tool to show their customers the strength of their buildings, and a sophisticated design which absorbs the friction and heat of the earthquake, separate from the inside of the house.

Now, thanks to the deal, we've brought that expertise and advanced R&D to the UK market, and we're already applying the insight as we evolve the hoUSe by Urban Splash modular product offering. From an innovation and technology standpoint there are so many awesome things we are already looking at. The numbers are impressive. Sekisui has delivered more than two million modular homes, with around 15,000 customisable individual homes developed every year. That scalability and the deal means that now we can take a long-term view.

Our partnership's now well-established and we're looking at new sites and new ways of working, but there is still a gap in the industry – whose grasp of modular and offsite manufacture and delivery isn't quite there yet. The private sector cannot revolutionise alone. The Government – through Homes England – has realised that they need to be a catalyst, it does need public sector coercion and support, otherwise it will be vulnerable to market fluctuations and any type of downtown. It needs long-term vision.

The industry is still lacking in its adoption of modular and timber homes – industry statistics show that just 10% of homes are created offsite in this country – meaning we've still got quite a way to go, especially when you read that countries such as Sweden can easily lead the way, with 45% of homes created offsite.

On their arrival in the UK market, our partners Sekisui House were genuinely surprised that the UK industry was so out-dated and we could have a housing crisis. In Japan the output of homes is so enormous and the technology is so advanced – it can sense when a person is home, run a bath for a child and withstand an earthquake, all at scale.

We're conscious though that there is an overload of exciting new options and the challenge will be to be selective, work out what the UK market needs and then gradually build it up. Ultimately, our relationship with Sekisui allows us to invest even more in R&D – ensuring that we're finding new ways to adapt our product and keep our houses at the forefront of the industry.

Timber Talks Conference – 06 Nov  - Building Centre London

Want to hear more about how to deliver an award winning structural timber project ? 

Then why not attend Timber Talks and hear from Structural Timber Award finalists including:

•         Keynote Address Julia Barfield - Founding Director, Marks Barfield Architects A Case Study on the 2020 Structural Timber Awards 'Winner of Winners' – Cambridge Mosque

•         Frank Werling - Head of Technical Engineering and Design, Metsa Wood A Case Study on Centre Parcs Elveden Forest

•         Gareth Mason - Sales Manager Western Europe – Building Solutions, Stora Enso The Future of Mass Timber Construction – award winning case studies

•         Toby Ronalds - Director, Eckersley O' Callaghan A Case Study on the Swimming Pool and Teaching Area at Freeman's School

•         Kelly Harrison - Associate, Heyne Tillett Steel & Tom Foster - Design Director, Studio RHE A Case Study on The Import Building

•         John Spittle - UK Representative, Wiehag A Case Study on The Macallan Distillery

•         Simon Horn - Technical Manager, England & Wales, Stewart Milne Timber Systems A Case Study on Barratt's St Wilfrids Walk Development

•         Patrick Usborne - Director, Perpendicular Architecture More than just timber; Health & Wellbeing

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