Up to 500 prefab homes for Chch

MARTA STEEMAN AND NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:20 13/02/2014

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Christchurch will be used as a testing ground for the construction of hundreds of "affordable" prefabricated homes.

A not-for-profit organisation - Pure Advantage - backed by a group of high-profile Kiwi business and civic leaders is calling for expressions of interest from building firms to deliver 300 to 500 "affordable" homes manufactured "off-site".

Pure Advantage wants to prove through the Christchurch pilot project that hundreds of prefab homes can be built in factories as is done in other countries including the United States, Germany and China.

Critics say it might be hard to convince Kiwis to buy the prefab homes.

Pure Advantage was set up three years ago to promote a greener New Zealand economy.

"Our intention is to deliver an at-scale pilot development of 300 to 500 homes to prove the business model and kick start the off-site manufacture industry," chief executive Duncan Stewart said.

It is offering to help finance the expansion of any company's off-site manufacturing operation as part of the deal.

One of its funding partners, Kiwibank, could offer mortgages to homeowners to buy the homes.

Pure Advantage wants the building firms to base the factories in New Zealand, use a local workforce and source materials nationally.

New Zealand Master Builders Association Canterbury branch president Clive Barrington said he could not think of any big Kiwi builders that built prefabricated homes already.

Thousands were built in the US and were "quite architectural" but that was a huge market.

A company needed to produce a lot to be able to sell them at affordable prices and still make a profit.

The biggest challenge would be getting New Zealanders to buy them, Barrington said.

"I think they are going to struggle. The average Kiwi likes an individual house."

Kiwis did not like the word prefabricated because it implied temporary even if it meant pre-built.

He suspected some subdivisions would not allow small prefabricated houses. "Would you want a transportable home next to you on a brand new subdivision?"

Real Estate Institute regional director Tony McPherson said prefabrication technology had "improved quite a lot" in recent years.

"Europe have some really interesting products coming out. They are certainly a lot different than what our perceptions may have been."

Tony Brazier, owner of Braziers property management and real estate firm, said the success of the project would depend on the design and quality of the houses, as well as where they fitted into the existing market.

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"If we've got a whole suburb of houses that look like a cardboard ghetto then they're definitely going to struggle."

Christchurch city councillor Glenn Livingstone said there was "no doubt" the city needed more affordable housing, and Pure Advantage's plan could help provide some of that.

"Any option for affordable housing - which is an urgent need - needs to be seriously looked at."

Livingstone, who chairs the council's housing committee, said the council would have to consult with the public before joining such a project though, and a "competitive tender process" would have to be completed if it did decide to get involved.

PURE ADVANTAGE

The brainchild of Phillip Mills, Pure Advantage was formed by a group of successful New Zealanders who want a greener, wealthier future for all of New Zealand.

The trustees are Sir George Fistonich, Rob Fyfe, Chris Liddell, Phillip Mills, Jeremy Moon, Rob Morrison, Geoff Ross, Justine Smyth, Mark Solomon, Sir Stephen Tindall and Joan Withers.

The founding trustees also included the late Lloyd Morrison and Sir Paul Callaghan.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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