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 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 06:23 GMT
Ideal homes solution
Utopian shoebox or housing remedy?

The answer to the UK affordable housing shortage may lie in the realms of science fiction.

Some of the highest land prices in the world - especially in London - are prompting developers to think outside the two-up-two-down box.

In short, to offer affordable housing developers and housing associations have had to stamp down on land or building costs.

'Micro' and 'module' flats and even pre-fabricated flat pack kit homes are all modern ways of squaring the affordable housing circle and resemble something straight out of Isaac Asimov or Arthur C Clarke sci-fi novels.

Houses built on bridge
Picture gallery
Key workers

Britain's booming housing market has left many potential first time buyers behind in its wake.

A lot of attention has focused on key public sector workers such as teachers or nurses unable to afford to clamber even onto the first rung of the property ladder.

Council and housing association waiting lists are geared first and foremost to finding affordable homes for these workers.

"Local authorities are very keen for us to concentrate on these people, in truth there is limited housing and priorities have to be made," Leander Perry spokeswoman for the Peabody trust, a London housing association told BBC News Online.


But private sector workers earning similar amounts - or less - enjoy no such preferential treatment.

"The research shows that there is a whole group of single private sector workers who are earning decent salaries but still can't afford to buy a home. Little is offered to these people," Sam Price, spokeswoman for the Microflat company which has taken a minimalist solution to this growing problem.

A Microflat prototype was first exhibited in the front window of Selfridges department store London in January 2002.

They are self contained pre-fabricated units with a sitting room/ kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. The idea is to create a comfortable hi-tech living space priced around the six figure mark.

Microflats are for first time buyers only and resale will be controlled in some way to avoid excessive profiteering.

Sam Price

Microflats have 32 square metres of floor space - around two thirds the size of an average one bedroom flat in the capital.

And interest has been considerable - so far 2,500 have registered an intention to buy even before a single flat has been built.

"Microflats are for first time buyers only and it is envisaged that resale will be controlled in some way to avoid excessive profiteering," Ms Price said.

The Peabody trust has an alternative way to square the affordable housing circle - saving on materials rather than space.

Its new development at Raines Court, near Stoke Newington in London is a series of 'module flats' which are constructed in three parts in a factory in York then transported to the site.

"By doing this the time spent on construction is slashed by nearly half. This makes them affordable" Ms Perry said.

Building bridges

Stamp duty exemptions apply in some inner city areas and are encouraging developers and housing associations to make us of land which many had turned their back on in the past.

The Peabody Trust has sought planning permission to build houses on a bridge over the River Lea.

The inhabited bridge will be ten stories high and have 92 homes, each flat would be prefabricated and craned into place.

Even Ikea, famous for its furniture, could soon be moving into the UK property market.

Ikea store
'Buy your home' at Ikea

BE Klok (Swedish for live smart), Ikea's house building arm, has supplied flat pack kit homes in Scandinavia.

The flats are stacked in L-shape blocks and are assembled in groups of six on site by Scandinavian fitters.

In Scandinavia, the pre-fabricated flats are mostly built of local pine and have large windows and balconies overlooking communal gardens.

A major drawback to Ikea's plans could be the price of land in the UK compared to Sweden.

But it is hoped that kit apartments may be available in the South East for under 150,000.





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