NSW Government to establish modular housing templates to fast-track housing supply

Modular builders, property developers, and manufacturers are positioned to address NSW’s housing shortage with a major initiative by the NSW Government to create modular housing designs.

In a national first, the New South Wales Government, under the leadership of Premier Chris Minns, is taking steps that, according to many in the offsite construction sector, will breathe life into and firmly establish modular construction in the mainstream housing narrative.

The significance of last week’s announcement by the NSW Government, led by Premier Minns, cannot be underestimated. If implemented correctly, modular construction, ranging from pre-configured kit-of-part elements to pre-approved designs, has the potential to reinvent the housing paradigm.

Rapid construction, cost efficiency, higher quality control, environmental sustainability, and flexible design options are some of the opportunities that the government initiative should deliver.

With rental properties at critically low availability and costs soaring, the NSW Government’s strategy involves the development of a ‘pattern book’ of pre-approved modular housing designs, focusing on both low-rise and mid-rise buildings, in a bid to speed up the construction and availability of homes.

Chris Minns, New South Wales Premier.
Chris Minns, New South Wales Premier.

Upon launching the modular housing plan last week, Chris Minns stated: “I can announce today that the government will launch a pattern book development pathway for terraces and mid -level apartment buildings. Working with industry, the government architect will develop several template building designs.

“If a builder builds to the pattern book, then the development will be considered a complying development and it will be given an immediate tick. The pattern book, the standard design will offer ease of approval, ease of construction, it will limit bespoke drafting or architectural plans and it will mean cheaper component parts as manufacturers will supply specs to the book, of the book, knowing that there’s a market that’s already been created by the creation of this pattern book.”

Abbie Galvin, NSW Government Architect.
Abbie Galvin, NSW Government Architect.

The modular housing initiative is a response to the acute shortage of affordable housing in NSW, a situation that has seen Sydney unit rents rise by 24% and house rents by 11% in the year leading up to September 2023. The NSW Government Architect, Abbie Galvin, is spearheading the development of this pattern book, collaborating with prominent private-sector architects and engaging in a comprehensive community consultation process.

International competition
A central feature of this initiative is the launch of an international competition, open to Australian and international architects and architecture schools. The goal is to design modular housing, terraces and mid-rise apartments for the 21st century. Winning designs from this competition will be incorporated into the pattern book, with the details of the competition expected to be announced in early 2024.

Developers set to benefit
Developers who opt to use these pre-approved designs will benefit from an accelerated approval pathway. This means that builders can start work sooner and people can move into their new homes earlier. This approach also offers potential cost benefits, as the pattern book will likely streamline the need for bespoke architectural plans and promote the use of less expensive component parts due to standardisation.

Modular housing pattern book.
The pattern book will encompass a variety of housing styles, specifically designed for Sydney’s climate and lifestyle, and according to government sources, these modular homes will focus on natural light, climate adaptability, and community spaces. The intention is not only to provide housing but also to foster community living, with spaces suitable for typical Australian activities like barbecues and outdoor sports.

While this pathway offers an option for some developers, it is not compulsory. Builders and architects can still design bespoke developments, which will undergo the regular approval process. Moreover, the Government is keen on involving the community in this process, with the public being able to view draft designs and provide feedback.

Approval times cut by 6-12 months.
In addition to low-rise and mid-rise dwellings, the Government is also facilitating the faster development of high-rise apartments. By allowing developers to select designers from a pre-approved list by the NSW Government Architect, this process is expected to cut assessment times by 6-12 months.

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