Jersey’s Chief Minister has visited one of Poland’s largest prefab construction factories to explore ‘new and innovative’ building techniques, which it's thought could help solve the island’s housing crisis.
During the short ‘fact-finding’ trip last week, Senator John Le Fondré met with the heads of Unihouse SA, a company that specialises in the construction of prefabricated modular buildings.
Flatpack panels are produced at the company’s factory in eastern Poland, before being transported to construction sites across Europe.
According to Unihouse, their ‘innovative technologies’ make it possible to create buildings of up to six floors, and a multi-family building can be constructed in less than 24 hours.
Senator Le Fondré said the two-day trip was a “fact-finding” visit to “assess the practicability of new and innovative building techniques and their applicability to Jersey’s context.”
Pictured: Jersey’s Chief Minister and Housing Minister (second and third from left) and the island's Polish Consul (fourth from left) met with representatives at the Unihouse factory in Bielsk Podlaski, Poland.
The Chief Minister was accompanied by the Minister for Housing and Communities, Deputy Russell Labey, the Interim Head of Strategic Housing and Regeneration, Deborah Reeve, and the Polish Consul, Magdalena Chmielewska.
Speaking about the designs produced by Unihouse, Senator Le Fondré said: “These innovative designs are more cost effective and faster to construct than traditional builds yet enjoy the same life span and impressive weather durability.
“Most of the building process takes place in the factory and is partially automated, which further reduces cost whilst ensuring quality.”
Affordable housing was a much-debated topic during last month’s Bridging Island Plan (BIP) talks. During the two-week sitting, States Members agreed that just over 4,000 new homes should be built over the next five years in Jersey, including 1,650 affordable homes.
Pictured: Polish construction company Unihouse can create prefabricated homes of up to six storeys.
Ministers also backed a proposal by Senator Sam Mezec whereby private-sector housing developments of more than 50 homes will have to designate 15% of them as ‘affordable’. The policy will come into force next January.
However, Ministers rejected an amendment by Senator Sam Mezec to introduce a binding policy to the BIP that every residential development on Government-owned land shall be 100% affordable homes unless it can be clearly proven that the development would be unviable if it went ahead on that basis.
Instead, Members approved a watered-down version of it, from Deputy Young, which said that affordable homes would be built "unless it has been otherwise approved that the development needs to specifically provide open market homes, particularly where this is required to ensure the viability of public realm and community infrastructure delivery".
Pictured: A multi-family flatpack building can be constructed in less than 24 hours.
States Members also agreed to lower the threshold for constructing buildings above eight storeys in St Helier, by changing the wording of the original draft plan. Previously, buildings over this height could only be considered in “exceptional circumstances”, but Members agreed to change this to just “appropriate circumstances”.
The final Bridging Island Plan does introduce policies demanding high standards of building efficiency, although a plan to introduce the 'Passivhaus' benchmark was withdrawn after concern from Scrutiny about creating air-tight homes and offices.
Last year, St. Mary Constable John Le Bailly told States Members that flatpack housing was the “only way to go” in solving Jersey’s housing crisis and creating more first-time buyer homes.
Flatpack methods of home construction - also known as ‘pre-fab’ - involve manufacturing certain components off-site in advance in standardised sections that are quickly and easily shipped and assembled.
Pictured: Modular pieces are stacked on top of each other.
For Poland’s Unihouse, the key market for prefab homes is in Norway, but they said buildings manufactured in their Polish factory are also found in Denmark and Sweden.
The modules are assembled and finished in their factory, even being equipped with lighting, bathroom and kitchen fittings, as well as household appliances.
Pictured: Unihouse homes come complete with lighting, bathroom and kitchen furniture and household appliances.
Modules are usually transported over night and once on site, a crane is used to stack the modules on top of each other like bricks. A block with several flats can be constructed within four or five nights.
Unihouse has also developed a ‘zero energy’ building, with very low energy consumption that is equipped with renewable energy sources, such as a heat pump and photovoltaic panels.
3/3 most of building process takes place in the factory and is partially automated, which further reduces cost whilst ensuring quality pic.twitter.com/fvPUdok6Jw— John Le Fondre (@John_Le_Fondre) April 10, 2022
The two-day trip to Poland cost the Government approximately £2,300.
A Government spokesperson said the Chief Minister was out of the island on partial annual leave immediately before the visit so paid for his flights from Jersey to London (return).
While in Poland, the Chief Minister also met country representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and visited a UNICEF ‘Blue Dot’ refugee centre, both of which are being partly supported by funds donated through Jersey Overseas Aid.
Jersey is estimated to be the highest per-capita donor to the UNHCR.
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