Modular housing dream may come to life

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 10:22 11/06/2014
Ian Cassels City Blox
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

DEVELOPER'S DREAM: Property developer Ian Cassels with a demonstration City Blox unit at Shelly Bay. He plans up to 2000 of the two-bedroom units.

City Blox
OUT OF THE BLOX: A concept drawing of Wellington Company prefab City Blox apartment units.

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Large-scale prefabricated housing could be coming to Wellington as developer Ian Cassels launches a new venture.

Cassels, director of The Wellington Company, intends to build as many as 2000 two-bedroom apartments which come ready assembled.

The units, called City Blox, are in the final stages of being consented and could start being constructed within a matter of months once the paperwork was done, he said.

"They are nothing like what Kiwis would think of as prefab. These things are factory-built the way a Toyota is factory-built."

Each flat can be bolted on top of others to create a block of three.

Assembled in Wellington, they will have two bedrooms with a living room, kitchen and bathroom, on a 72-square-metre floorplan, renting for between $400 and $500 a week. The average size of a two-bedroom apartment in Wellington city is 85 square metres.

Rental prices for the units could vary according to land price and location, Cassels said. The target was to eventually build "a couple of thousand" if the market responded well.

The Wellington Company had been working on the concept for several years, and the design was in the final stages of MultiProof consent from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

This would mean any building consent would be automatically approved with only land use consents required, speeding up how quickly the units can be put in place.

A prototype has already been moved to Shelly Bay, where Cassels recently signed a contract to develop the land owned by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust.

The plan was to lease land from other owners and use existing Wellington Company property as locations for apartments.

"It's as flexible as a caravan park, except it is a real house, that's really good, and can stay there for 100 years."

Cassels hoped to expand the concept into Christchurch and Auckland, seeing applications both for private developers, social housing and the Government.

"If they are as good as we say they are, and I'm sure they will be, they should be like emergency response housing . . . they can [also] easily be used for social housing."

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the Wellington City Council had its own interest in modular homes.

It would soon ask for expressions of interest in building 100 modular units as part of a redevelopment of its Arlington Apartments in Hopper St, Mt Cook.

The development should be better value for money, and faster, if it adopted modular-style building, she said.

"It could be built in-situ, flatpacked or modules shipped in . . . in theory it is more economic and there's less waste."

Both the council initiatives and Cassels' could encourage further development in the modular market, she said, particularly for social housing trusts.

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