Leader of the Labour group on Peterborough City Council, Cllr Shaz Nawaz:
Each ward in our city is different, but many of the issues they face are the same. Crime is one such issue; fly-tipping is another. However, the Labour Group is acutely aware that need for adequate housing is growing in nearly every ward.
Peterborough’s housing problems are getting worse by the day; the millions of pounds we have spent housing people in Travelodges are testament to this fact. At this point, we need to drop any pretence of dogma and explore all possibilities. I’m reminded of a quote from the Irish author George Bernard Shaw: “The possibilities are endless once we decide to act and not react”.
For example, investment in modular homes could be a viable option. They take far less time to build than traditional homes, and are a tried and tested means by which to expand housing stock. Modular houses were key to America’s rapid expansion of the number of homes after World War 2, and created many of its modern suburbs including Levittown, which sits outside New York City. In Sweden, Ikea has partnered with Skanska to create “BoKlok”, a venture which builds modular, quality, affordable flats and terraced homes.
To address the problem of scarce land in our area, I’ve looked into how modular homes can be built above car parks. In 2016, the architect Bill Dunster OBE designed a series of homes called “Zed Pods” that do this; these homes conserve a great deal of space which would otherwise be allocated to driveways. Such “pods” could be useful as student accommodation, as well as provide convenient homes for professional people such as nurses. The council could initiate a pilot project utilising one of its many car parks and see how well this idea works for Peterborough.
Furthermore, there is a Peterborough firm, Lesko Modular, which builds modular homes.
The council should engage them as a partner in addressing our housing problems. By investing council money in this local business, they could potentially employ more people, upskill apprentices, and add real social value. I suggest that the co-operative model be utilised in this venture, to further aid in building the local economy. Furthermore, the council could develop the project and commercialise it by strategically supplying other councils.
As the “BoKlok” venture in Sweden proves, modular homes can be environmentally friendly: for example, the Swedes prioritise the use of wood over concrete. If we make sustainability a critical part of a modular housing programme, this will help us do the right thing and also promote our status as an environmental capital. Indeed, proper planning should ensure that we build genuinely eco-friendly communities. Bright Green Futures is already working towards this aim; we should also look to build public buildings like schools in a similar green and modular manner.
As my research has shown, we do not have to accept the status quo of chronic housing shortages: imagination, determination and innovation can make a start in fixing the problem.