Posted on 20th March 2015

Can Alternative Housing Counter the Lack of Affordable Properties?

By Martin Williamson, Head of Residential Property, Latimer Hinks Solicitors

One perennial problem affecting the robustness, or otherwise, of the property market has been the lack of affordable housing.

This dearth of housing stock has created above-inflation increases in house prices that are now pricing out many first-time buyers, according to a report published by the CBI. In its Manifesto, the CBI has urged government to build 10 new towns and garden cities by 2025 and double the number of new homes currently being built to 240,000 a year. The number of homes completed in 2013 alone fell by five per cent to 109,370, according to Government data. The gap in demand is pushing up prices, with an average increase of 54 per cent nationally, and 90 per cent in London.

So what can be done to counter the lack of affordable housing? There are innovative solutions out there. One of the most creative has surely got to be the advent of straw bale houses. The worlds first straw bale council houses, a pair of semi-detached three bedroom council houses, were built in Waddington, Lincolnshire five years ago. The properties were designed by Kuba Wihan and Barbara Jones while at straw bale housing specialist amazonails and were built in partnership with Taylor Pearson Construction for North Kesteven Council in 2009/10. The cost of these straw properties above their foundations is in the region of £103,000, excluding balcony and porch. This makes such properties far more affordable than the national average property price of £188,858.

There have been similar developments since then including straw bale properties on the outskirts of Bristol. These properties are in fact built with straw technology company Modcells, prefabricated panels, which are sixteen inch deep timber framed panels insulated with straw.

Straw houses have been built on the African plains since thePaleolithic Era. Straw bales were used in construction 26 years ago in Germany; and straw-thatched roofs have long been used in northern Europe and Asia. In the New World,teepeeswere insulated in winter with loose straw between the inner lining and outer cover.Since the 2000s straw-bale construction has been substantially revived, particularly in North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia. However, straw bale construction does encounter issues regarding planning permission depending on the location of the building. Anticipated levity aside, these straw bale houses are surprisingly robust and able to withstand virtually anything the UK weather might throw at them.

There are many other forms of alternative prefabricated housing such as brick and concrete and even properties with locally-sourced sheeps wool as insulation. The self-build market is an important and growing one. In 2012 to 2013 almost 11,000 new homes were self-built, in an industry worth up to £4 billion for the UK economy

Please note: This article is intended as guidance only and does not constitute advice, financial or otherwise. No responsibility for loss occasioned/costs arising as a result of any act/failure to act on the basis of this article can be accepted by Latimer Hinks.

Martin Williamson is Head of Residential Property at Latimer Hinks Solicitors in Darlington. Latimer Hinks has a team of around 40 people serving private and corporate clients. For further information: or call 01325 341500.