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Innovation and Planning: can the planning system adapt to 3D Printed Houses?

There has been a lot of discussion recently about new methods of construction, from modular, factory led methods of construction to temporary homes made out of repurposed shipping containers. However, according to the BBC (see link below) France has just raised the bar - by completing (and occupying) the first 3D-printed home. 

The Government seems to be in favour of innovative methods of construction as possible solution to the current housing crisis, with nods to encouraging the sector in the last few housing consultations. James Brokenshire, the current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, even devoted a section of his latest policy exchange speech to Modern Methods of Construction*. 

The real question, however, is whether the planning system in its current form, is ready for this level of innovation and, if not, how quickly it will be able to adapt.

From personal experience, on a number of projects that colleagues and I have been involved with, it seems that being the first 'proof of concept' scheme through the planning system is far from easy. 

Council Officers and Statutory Consultees, who are already under-resourced and over-worked, have to be convinced of the safety, durability and wisdom of approving novel materials  or concepts with which they are unfamiliar. Inevitably, this takes time. Quite a significant amount of it in fact, and ironically, it can take much  longer for these schemes (some of which could be built out remarkably quickly) to get through to planning committee. 

Assuming you can get all of the Statutory Consultees and the Council Officer's on board, you then need to persuade the Committee itself - which can be tricky in a three minute speaking slot. Particularly if you need to explain the intricacies of construction materials, a new design concept, or the longevity of a 3D printed home.

Finally, there is the hurdle of the 'standard' conditions, policies or planning obligations - all of which my need to be individually adapted to a scheme which is far from standard. 

Given the almost universal acknowledgement that Council planning departments are already over-stretched and under-resourced - it is difficult to see how they can be expected to adapt to or embrace these innovations without further investment. It takes time to understand new technologies, materials and their implications. In the current system, time is one luxury the average planning officer does not appear to have.


A family in France has become the first in the world to move into a 3D-printed house. The four-bedroom property is a prototype for bigger projects aiming to make housebuilding quicker and cheaper. Could it cause a shift in the building industry?

With curved walls designed to reduce the effects of humidity and digital controls for disabled people, this house could be an expensive realisation of an architect's vision.

But having taken 54 hours to print - with four more months for contractors to add in things such as windows, doors and the roof - its cost of around £176,000 to build makes it 20% cheaper than an identical construction using more traditional solutions.

The team now believe they could print the same house again in only 33 hours.”