Tesco's failure to persuade the people of Tolworth of the merits of a superstore could be the cue for a village of flatpack box-like homes to ease the housing demand crisis.
YMCA London South West, based in Surbiton, is in talks with Kingston Council about introducing the small 26 square metre units, designed by architect Richard Rogers, somewhere in the borough.
The site at Tolworth, which has been empty since it was bought from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries in 2002 would be one of the dream homes for the portable, stackable Y-cube homes.
Councillor Tricia Bamford, Kingston Council's member for better homes, said: "I think it is a good idea when there's a desperate need for housing, particularly for single people who might need help along the way.
"We haven't talked about specifics or where. We think we would like to try that given there's success in other areas."
Tony Arbour, Conservative London Assembly member, said: "They came up to City Hall and made a presentation.
"Part of that site is pretty derelict and inevitably it will be used but whoever wants to use it has got to start from square one so I would have thought potentially it is a good idea."
Alison Gelder, chief executive of charity Housing Justice, said: "It is a brilliant idea, absolutely fantastic. There is such a need for affordable accommodation and it is so difficult for under 35s because of changes to the benefit system.
"If your choice was living there or a hostel or a shared house with people who you don't get on with I think you would definitely opt for your own front door and slightly less space.
"I'm sure there will be problems with NIMBYs because people always want to 'pull the ladder up afterward'."
Matt Hatton, of Kingston Churches Action on Homelessness, said: "I think the concept is fantastic as a way of providing accommodation for people who have been homeless.
"If there is a brownfield at Tolworth for a five-year or 10 year lease it would be great."
The portable homes look like shipping containers and are a tight 26sq m unit.
They have a lounge, kitchen facilities and bedroom with ensuite bathroom.
The charity says they are a cost-effective alternative for poor and homeless people who cannot afford to buy or rent privately.
A prototype of the Y:Cube is currently outside YMCA Wimbledon, with plans for the first Y:Cube housing scheme comprising of 36 units to open in Mitcham by the end of this year.
Andy Redfearn, YMCA director of development, said the charity had held talks about bringing a scheme to Kingston – with the former Ministry site in Tolworth mooted as a potential site.
Mr Redfearn said: “We are having discussions with Kingston Council about how we can deliver a scheme in the borough.
“Officers are very keen to develop affordable housing and obviously Y:Cube does that.”
Tesco withdrew an application for a supermarket, hotel and 269 flats on the site next to the A3 earlier this month – the third time since 2002 it had scrapped plans following opposition from councillors and the public.
The supermarket giant has now ditched its supermarket plans altogether, and promised to create a residential-led development that would make a “major contribution to Kingston’s housing needs”.
Mr Redfearn said: “We have had conversations along with other housing providers to present some proposals to Tesco.
“We were asked for creative ideas to bring the site back into use, and one of our suggestions was the Y:Cube.
“No formal discussion has been had with Tesco. It was before we knew about Tesco pulling its supermarket application.”
Tesco has promised to consult on future plans later this year, and Mr Redfearn said the YMCA was “keen to be part of the discussions”.
The Y:Cube has been designed by architects Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, and will be offered to single people who are former YMCA residents or on the waiting list for a council home.
Each timber-made unit is constructed off-site, and can be stacked side by side or on top of each other – meaning whole developments could potentially be taken apart and relocated if needed.
At an estimated £45,000 a unit, the Y:Cube costs almost half the price of other housing developments, and each unit will be let at 65 per cent the normal market rent.
The prototype outside Wimbledon YMCA will be open to the public on Thursday, April 3, from 10am to 2pm.
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