Wooden prefabs the new des res

PUBLISHED: 09:05 07 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:58 22 October 2010

The eco-friendly Corporation Yard flats in Norwich.

The eco-friendly Corporation Yard flats in Norwich.


They are striking off the shelf homes with a continental flavour. And these six “green” timber-clad prefab new flats in Norwich are in the vanguard of moves to build more homes to rent in the city and across Norfolk.

They are striking off-the-shelf homes with a continental flavour. And these six "green" timber-clad prefab new flats in Norwich are in the vanguard of moves to build more homes to rent in the city and across Norfolk.

Wooden prefabs are not new to Norwich - some may remember the log cabins at Pilling Park. And the kit home was a mainstay of many post-war years, with some still standing decades after originally intended.

But these six timber-framed studio flats are being seen as a prototype design to combine energy efficiency and sustainability while helping to ease the pressure on Norwich City Council waiting lists.

Built for Orbit Housing Association on a former council-owned corporation depot off Colman Road in Norwich, they are tucked behind mature trees close to the shops in the renamed Carpenters Court.

Brought to Norwich in segments from Ipswich, they took six weeks to put up - compared to three months to build a conventional home. They are also designed to last for 60 years.

Inside each 46 square metre flat is a kitchen/living area, a bedroom and bathroom. They are also fitted with the most efficient 'A' rated boilers.

Aluminium was used for the roof and trims because it could be recycled, while insulation levels are 28pc greater than the current building regulation requirements. Tenants pay rent of £54 a week, compared to the £425 a month you could pay for a private one-bedroom flat in the west of the city.

They also enjoy lower energy running costs of £322 a year - around half those of a conventional home. That includes £31 for heating and £43 for hot water.

Neil Macnab, associate director of architects Chaplin Farrant, who designed the £537,000 project, said he was inspired by a similar housing scheme in Holland.

"The brief from the housing association and the planners was to push the sustainability side of it," he said. "They wanted us to create a prototype for other housing projects. We tried to keep it as simple as possible to keep the costs down.

"The government is pushing offsite construction methods as a way of trying to get things moving faster.

"The big thing about it is that it's a brownfield site. But it's housing close to public transport routes and the shops. We've talked to the tenants and they are really pleased with it."

The six properties, which were finished in March, are clad in a special kiln-dried 'thermowood' pine from renewable sources, which has not been chemically treated. The one disappoint-ment was the lack of renewable energy sources.

"We did look at renewables such as photovoltaics (solar panels)," Mr Macnab added. "It would have been nice to have a small wind turbine at the front but we were limited by the finances of the project."

Kris Reeves, the city council's acting head of strategic housing, said the authority, which contributed more than £100,000 to the scheme, was hoping to build 500 prefab in the next two years after gaining a £17m government grant. Of those, 90pc will be for rent, but the rest would be available to buy as part of a shared ownership scheme.

"Once you get the foundations in they shoot up," she said. "We are looking at sustainable developments both in terms of materials and the length of time they last. With electricity and gas costs going through the roof, we also see these schemes as helping to tackle fuel poverty because of their low energy costs."

Brian Edwards, Orbit Housing Group development manager, said the idea was to produce a beacon scheme which would serve as a template for other projects including plans for 58 flats at Foulger's Opening off Ber Street, Norwich, and Jessop Road.

"The aim was to produce a contemporary design using modern methods," he said. "We are going in for more of these structures.

"If you imagine a skeleton building with a timber frame, the panels slot in. Externally, you can put on whatever you like, brick, render or timber.

"That's the way we are going to have to go with the new building regulations that have just come out. Building in the old traditional brick and block isn't a viable answer and in a few years time we won't be able to do it."

Last year a survey by Standard Life Bank found a growing number of people would consider buying a prefab. If sold on the open market each flat would be worth £90,000, but they are not for sale.

Mr Macnab is working on three other small-scale developments of up to nine houses in other parts of the county.

"We are looking at some for North Norfolk. They are houses rather than flats. It would be nice to get this sort of thing in the larger towns as well.

"We were lucky to be dealing with a progressive housing association who were keen on the design side and looking to do something different.

"I would like to live in one. I think there is a private market for it as well."

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