The $39.1 billion NZ Super Fund has pitched to be involved in the Government's KiwiBuild scheme via off-site home manufacturing plans as Housing Minister Phil Twyford today announces 102 responses to the new scheme.
A fund spokeswoman said this morning: "We are interested in exploring investment opportunities in large-scale housing infrastructure development and modular/pre-fabricated housing and have put a proposal into the KiwiBuild off-site manufacturing invitation to pitch process being run by the Government."
Twyford did not mention the fund in his announcement of 102 bidders but said parties from New Zealand and overseas had put forward their ideas.
Companies were asked to propose ways they could help KiwiBuild boost the housing supply, increase productivity and build affordable places for first home buyers, he said.
Industry experts said the fund had probably struck a deal with a business with the capacity to severely ramp pre-fab production numbers, with the potential for a deal of around $100m. Some businesses might be wary because they would be worried about the Government's involvement, though, they said.
"The fund wouldn't be talking about doing this on a small scale. They'd be talking about getting contracts for mass housing - perhaps thousands at a time," an industry insider said.
The fund spokesperson said the pitch was in a competitive process surrounded by commercial sensitivities. The proposal was only just submitted so it was important that officials have time to consider it before the fund released any details, the spokesperson said.
The fact the fund was interested gave credibility to the scheme, the expert said.
Twyford said innovative offsite manufacturing was a key part of the KiwiBuild plan to enable innovation and scale to drive a real step change in the availability, quality and price of housing.
"KiwiBuild is not only about tackling the housing crisis and restoring the kiwi dream of homeownership to young families. It's also about transforming how we build homes to reduce construction costs, deliver consistent high-quality design, increase capacity of the construction sector, and get homes completed faster," Twyford said.
"Offsite manufacturing firms from across New Zealand and around the world have put forward their ideas to help us do that. The KiwiBuild Unit will now work through the proposals from the companies.
However, the pre-fab sector has been dogged with high-profile failures including Trentham-headquartered Matrix Homes, in receivership as well as eHome of Auckland, in liquidation.
But Fletcher Building has embraced the technology and has showed off its house-in-a-day scheme at Hobsonville Point as well as how it built five houses in five days.
A 170sq m $800,000-plus house was put up between 7.30am and 5pm on a day in August last year, Fletcher said, when it usually takes six to nine months to build in this city.
Panelised components could enable others in the sector to regularly put up a home in a single day.
Prefab NZ's Pamela Bell says her organisation is aiming to increase the uptake of pre-built construction by 40 per cent by cost by 2020. New technologies can achieve a better houses with higher quality, smarter, greener, safer, faster more innovative methods, she says.
But Grant Porteous, who owns the master franchise for the country's largest house builder G J Gardner, has raised doubts about pre-fab construction, saying most new homes in this country are not built via that method.
"The Government is being misled about prefab plants or modular housing being a silver bullet and dramatically reducing the time and cost of construction of new homes. That is giving false hopes and misleading many people. I can demonstrate quite the reverse is the truth. That is, modular housing costs more and takes more time to build from conception to the factory to completion on site," Porteous said earlier this year.
He is concerned about prefab expectations.
"What we would like from the Government is the demonstration of a desire to move forward plus not be seemingly supporting businesses that may have manufacturing plants but very weak balance sheets and looking to put public money at risk in these ventures," he said.
Another expert said resource consenting timeframes, lack of certainty of supply, banks' appetite to lend on land not buildings and the Government's involvement were all potential impediments to the pre-fab industry expanding to meet New Zealand's housing demands.