Prefabs Sprouting? Housing crises and the return of factory-built housing to the UK

Our very own Dr Pratichi Chatterjee and Dr Andrew Wallace will present this School Research Seminar on the theme of housing in the UK.


The banal violence of the mainstream housebuilding system in the UK is laid bare. The country is awash with poor quality, carbon-hungry homes built in the wrong places and with little attention to housing need. This is deliberate. It creates the conditions of scarcity through which widespread rentiership, indebtedness and housing insecurity can grow. These dynamics are now widely understood and political parties are under pressure to react.  One aspect of this dysfunction which has received sustained policy attention, is the private construction sector, which has been repeatedly scolded by Government for being inefficient and unproductive. Brexit is said to have exposed it further, exacerbating skills shortages. Increasingly, the answer to these alleged failings is to embrace the prefabrication of homes in factory settings.  

The UK Government has held a long-term ambition to transform housebuilding from a construction into a manufacturing process. As such, Government has invested heavily in R&D, backed ‘disruptive’ start-ups which deploy ‘modern methods of construction’ (MMC) and brokered pipelines of demand for MMC homes through land deals and delivery targets.  This re-emergence of factory-built housing in the UK presents a compelling challenge to a housebuilding hegemony comprised of cartel firms, long established trades, and aesthetic ‘bricks n mortar’ norms.  

In this paper, we present findings from the ongoing research study, Prefabs Sprouting: Modern Methods of Construction and the English Housing Crisis, to examine what happens when traditional modes of production are challenged and the stakes for housing justice are so high. Are factory-built homes good enough? What is being gained / lost in this shift? Some years ago, the writer James Meek surveyed the wreckage of the housing crisis and posed the question: ‘where will we live?’ To this we might add: ‘what will we live in?’ 

Speaker bios: 

Dr Pratichi Chatterjee is a postdoctoral researcher based in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. She works on geographies of housing dispossession and redevelopment. She is a Research Fellow on Prefabs Sprouting, an ESRC-funded study of housing innovation and crisis in England. 

Dr Andrew Wallace is Associate Professor in Urban Sociology in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. His research cuts across critical urban, housing and community studies and addresses structures of urban marginalisation. He is Primary Investigator of Prefabs Sprouting.