Modular homes in Bristol delayed after on-site construction errors

Modular homes at Legal & General’s Bonnington site have been hit by six-month delays in completion, after a ‘serious mistake’ led to the dismantling of brick walls.

For Simon*, 29, and his partner, moving to Bristol promised to live “halfway between our families” in a city they know and love.

Contrary to the stereotype of smiling Londoners at the head of the M4 waving bags of money, they are moving from Yorkshire. Although they had good jobs, as first-time home buyers they struggled to find somewhere they could afford a mortgage in the city’s rapidly overheating market.

A real estate project in progress off Bonnington Walk in Lockleaze seemed to offer the solution.

The 185-home Bonnington development, owned by financial services giant Legal & General (L&G), is one of many in Bristol built using modern ‘modular’ building methods. The central core of a house is built in the L&G factory near Leeds before being shipped to site and finished there, which on paper is faster and more efficient than building from scratch on site.

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Insulation and regular masonry began to be installed on the modular cores in late summer 2022. In November Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees and L&G Chief Executive Sir Nigel Wilson officially launched Bonningtonwhich is only L&G second modular diagram. Rees said he was “delighted” with how it “combines affordability [50% of homes meet the definition] with durability.

But within weeks, residents of Lockleaze noticed near-completed homes being dismantled. Before Christmas, when Simon and his partner had hoped to move in, L&G wrote with bad news. Manufacturing and materials issues meant the homes wouldn’t be ready until early summer 2023.

The announcement not only meant buyers were putting their lives on hold for six months, but faced an anxious wait before extending mortgage offers, with borrowing rate having increased sharply in 2022.

Some, who have joined the national purchase aid loan system, seem ready to run out completely – potentially leaving them unable to buy anywhere – because homes will not be completed in time for a deadline set by the government.

“It was supposed to be a quick build”

In recent years, the construction of modular homes has been touted as an important step towards tackling the national housing crisis. Homes are quick to build and can have a lower carbon footprint than traditional methods. But new techniques have not understood as quickly as expected with the UK construction industry and companies such as L&G have lost money.

Bonnington, where homes are designed for “maximum energy efficiency”, accounts for about a fifth of 1,000 new homes planned for Lockleazemost of which are not modular.

But it’s not the only modular project in Bristol to have made slower progress than promised. In December 2022, Bristol live reported that buyers at the BoKlok development in south Bristol, of which Ikea is a partner, had also been told they would not be moving into new homes in time for Christmas as planned.

Some should have been installed in Airbnbs, with Boklok citing “challenges around supply chain, materials and labor”.

In Lockleaze, L&G’s Bonnington site is directly behind the rear gardens of the Landseer Avenue houses. Residents say the cable masonry started going over the modular cores in late summer 2022, followed by the windows.

“The windows seemed to be a problem – one night I was looking out of my kitchen, there were three guys with torches, looking at the picture frames,” says retired Landseer Avenue resident Malcolm.

Shortly after, “sheets of plastic landed around the frames,” adds Malcolm. “Then they started removing bricks.”

The Bonnington development, built on green space once occupied by housing estates, has attracted much opposition to Lockleaze. But Malcolm and his wife Debra say they are in favor of the project – as long as the houses are of good quality.

“I’m sad for people, I want them to have homes to live in, that’s what we need,” Malcolm says. “It was supposed to be a quick build – but I feel like some of the people working there don’t understand how [the modular method] works, you could see them scratching their heads.

“New construction must meet high standards”

Local councilor Heather Mack says she has heard from a number of concerned potential residents. These include people who were going through Help to Buy and are now unlikely to be able to move in.

“They noticed a pretty serious mistake and knocked down all the masonry,” she says. “I would love to see all new construction at Lockleaze held to the very high standards they are meant to be built to.” Mack adds that she believes L&G is now taking the appropriate steps to address the issues.

The Bonnington Walk entrance to the L&G Modular site, which was previously a green space (Photo: David Griffiths)

A spokesperson for Legal & General Modular Homes said the issues were related to the quality of construction and delays in getting the right kinds of supplies. “We are committed to creating homes to our exacting quality standards, and our program considers delivering to those standards,” they said.

All potential buyers have been given “individual timelines for when they can move out, as well as help and advice based on their circumstances,” the spokesperson added. “Our delivery program has also taken into account the well-being of all our customers, because it is important that when they move into their new homes, they can do so without being disturbed by the ongoing construction operations.”

A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said that as Bonnington is an L&G project, the council has no formal power over the site.

“We are aware that they are working to complete their development as quickly as possible,” the council spokesperson added. “Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) is an innovative tool to tackle the housing crisis and overcome barriers to the provision of affordable housing.”

The spokesperson added that the authority learns from sites under development using different methods “to improve our knowledge and ability to work with MMC companies.”

The council has also written to the government asking them to extend the purchase aid deadline for a further 12 months. “A lot of people won’t be able to continue buying their homes because of the delays, and without this funding they won’t be able to afford it,” the spokesperson said.

Simon and his partner recently received better news on their mortgage, with an extension offered provided they stay with Bonnington. But he says the problems have shaken their faith and they are likely to back down, meaning their move to Bristol is back on the drawing board.

“We could keep waiting – but I have no confidence in Legal & General’s ability to build our house,” he says.

*Name has been changed

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