Bob Weston says ‘no comparison’ between failed volumetric ventures like Ilke and his panelised system

The man behind a brand-new £45m robotised offsite housing factory in Essex with capacity to supply 4,000 homes a year has insisted there is “no comparison” between his business and recent modular manufacturing failures.


Bob Weston said volumetric housing was more expensive

Bob Weston, chairman and managing director of Weston Homes, which this week launched its British Offsite business from a 137,000ft² factory  in Braintree, Essex, said that failed volumetric modular manufacturers such as Ilke and L&G Modular should not be compared to factories such as his producing homes using panellised systems.

Weston said he accepted it was not ideal to be launching the new factory into the teeth of a widely forecast housing downturn but said he would “absolutely” make a success of it, and was not concerned by the recent modular collapses.

Weston has invested £45m in the factory, which is designed to produce light gauge steel frame closed panels for use within high-rise housing schemes. The wall panels, built using a largely robotised system supplied by Swedish engineer Randek, are designed to fit within traditionally built concrete structures, with £240m-turnover Weston having already supplied schemes of up to 29 storeys with the system from its previous smaller factory.

Bob Weston said: “We’re not a volumetric housebuilder. There’s a market for it – building student accommodation, Travel Lodges, Premier Inns – there’s a market for it. [But] I don’t see it in high-density urban regeneration, that’s why we never went down that route five years ago. We identified this [panellised system] was the right way to go.

>> See also: What went wrong for Ilke Homes?

>> See also: What does the closure of L&G’s flagship factory mean for the future of modular in the UK?

“Architecture comes first – our system is completely fluid for architecture, we don’t have a standard panel or product. Planning is getting harder and harder – building beautiful etc. Our system allows for that.


A robot in the new British Offsite factory

“With volumetric, the other problem is it’s always going to be far more expensive if you start trying to plug modules together, just on the wiring alone you can double the cost of the electrical installation.”

Weston added that having a panellised system meant British Offsite retained freedom over the size and layout of units, rather than being constrained by what could be fitted onto the back of a truck.

Ilke went into administration at the end of June, with L&G Modular closing its doors to new business in May.

Weston said the British Offsite factory would initially run at around 70% of single shift capacity, with Weston Homes itself, which built 754 homes last year, providing around 50%-60% of the demand for the homes for that level of output.

British Offsite has been set up under a separate brand specifically so it can sell to other housebuilders, developers and contractors, and Weston said the firm had already priced around £70m of work, largely for contractors, and was waiting to finalise the first external contracts.


British Offsite’s “Horizon” factory in Braintree, Essex

He said the system could be used to sell in to the construction of schools and medical centres as well as homes.

Asked about the timing of the launch, Bob Weston said it was three years from when the decision was made to build a new factory. He said: “It is a difficult moment. If we were clever enough to have hindsight to know that the economy was going to be wrecked, maybe we wouldn’t have started, but, do you know what? We are where we are.

“Absolutely we will make a success of it. We need to.”