Off-site manufacturing (OSM) and modern methods of construction (MMC) are often seen as both a knight in shining armour and something to be very suspicious of.
Something to be suspicious of because historically the construction and house building sectors have always been risk averse and therefore moving into new methods of building and delivering homes would be not be an easy step to take. A knight in shining armour because the simple truth is that traditional construction methods do not have the capacity to build enough homes.
Although the government’s target of building new homes by 2020 is 300,000 per year the reality is in recent years construction output has fallen significantly below this target.
2018 was a much better year as it saw 220,000 new homes being built but even when you take this and the fact that that construction output has increased by 78% over the past five years into consideration, the failure to build for so many years has resulted in there still being a significant amount of catching up to do.
In the summer of 2018 a report published by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee highlighted evidence that OSM is the only way for the government to achieve its target of building 300,000 houses a year by 2020 as traditional construction methods do not have the capacity to build enough homes.
The report states that OSM could increase productivity in the sector by up to 70% as it affords an increase in productivity while reducing labour demands, improving the quality and efficiency of buildings and reducing the environmental impacts associated with traditional construction.
Despite the escalating evidence of the need to change figures show only 12% of construction involves offsite methods and many in the industry have called for the government to do more to drive change by developing models that share risk and incentivise investment in new construction techniques such as OSM and MMC. In a positive move MMC is set to be promoted by Homes England in its new five-year plan which will see the requirement to use MMC incorporated in Homes England leases. In the shorter term, Homes England plans to “support pilot projects where there is developer interest in testing MMC to learn lessons and understand costs” and will provide financial support to smaller developers to increase the capacity of the off-site manufacturing industry. Balfour Beatty has also pledged to modernise its construction process by embracing offsite and modular building techniques with a goal of reducing work undertaken onsite by 25% by 2025.
Its latest report entitled ‘25% by 2025 Streamlined construction: Seven steps to offsite and modular building’ the company says its ready to adopt construction methods which are increasingly being recognised as the best way for the UK construction industry to boost productivity and plug skills shortages. However, it is the announcement by one of the UK’s largest housing associations that is seen as a real game changer that will see others quickly follow.
L&Q recently declared that as part of a new construction strategy for the next decade, which plans to deliver more than 100,000 homes, they pledge to increase offsite construction delivery by more than fivefold with a goal of only using OSM in all of its new homes by 2025.
In response to the question it very much appears that OSM and MMC are currently the only answer to building more homes.