Japanese house builder Sekisui House has just announced its £22m investment in Urban Splash House Holdings, a 35% stake that will allow the UK firm to ramp up its delivery of modular homes. We ask Urban Splash co-founder and architect Jonathan Falkingham what the deal means for the company
With 60 years in the housing market in Japan and elsewhere what’s the angle of Sekisui’s investment?
We’ve had 26 years working in tricky urban situations and with urban blight. About seven years ago we grew keen to challenge the traditional volume house builders’ offer. We developed a range of housing products with shedkm that looked at creating space that buyers could customise, and bought a panel-making factory in Alfreton to produce them. To grow our business further we need external investment and expertise and Sekisui House was looking to break into the UK market with an innovative partner.
Homes England is providing £3m plus a £27m ‘debt facility’. What will this debt facility help the company to do?
With the need to meet a housing shortfall, Homes England wants to support businesses looking into modular construction and offsite production. It put equity into the project as it believes in it but the debt facility allows us to accelerate the R&D component as well as the programme for delivery.
What is the involvement of WeBuyAnyCar.com’s Noel McKee?
Noel’s involvement is more than financial. He’s changed the way the country buys and sells second-hand cars. We brought him in to consult over the last couple of years to see how he can bring that disruptor skill to bear when buying and selling homes.
Is it Sekisui’s technology you want? Are you looking at new supply chains?
Sekisui Homes, with five plants in Japan, has paid a few visits to our factory here. We’re interested in how it can help us develop our products for the UK. But while it has a lot of technical expertise it needs to get a handle on our planning and building codes. Using its R&D, we hope to collaborate on bespoke panellised and volumetric products that work in our market.
You’ve worked with Channel 4’s George Clarke and shedkm on your current modular offering. Do you plan to use other architects too?
Yes. We’re developing the ‘Edge House’ with Proctor Matthews and ‘Gate House’ with Metropolitan Workshop. Going forward it’s a challenge. Our USP is design so we’re not looking for one generic product but a range that responds to the geographic context as well as buyer requirements. Terraced homes, corner ones, ones with shops beneath. It’s not just flexibility of appearance though, but internal layouts. There are many examples of architects providing an innovative skin with very conventional layouts within.
When do you think you’ll be producing 2000 homes a year?
Well, land supply and planning issues all being good, we’re looking at around five years.