Housing target will not be met without modern methods of construction

The British Government must embrace modern methods of construction or risk missing it target of building 300,000 new homes in England by the mid 2020s, according to a new report from Parliament.

In the report, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee warns that there is an over reliance on traditional building methods and using modern methods of construction (MMC) to build homes quicker and cheaper is essential.

However, it also warns that the Government will need to act quickly to increase capacity and improve investor confidence if it is to have a meaningful impact on UK house building targets.

Modern methods of construction comprises a range of innovations including the use of new materials, digital working and precision manufacturing techniques in the house building process. MMC processes can be used alongside traditional building methods and allow for greater use of off-site construction.

The committee also says that home builders should use more digital technology in their processes and not simply move construction off-site and points out that a lack of long term data on the durability of MMC homes in the UK is a considerable barrier to industry actors engaging with MMC housing schemes.

It also points out that supply chains for MMC homes are underdeveloped in the UK and the Government should help to aggregate demand for MMC products to provide certainty and allow businesses in the supply chain to invest in factories to produce relevant components and machinery.

It suggests that the Government should work with Homes England and training centres, such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, to develop targeted programmes targeted for use in the manufacture of MMC homes. Initial work to develop centres of excellence, bringing together businesses and academia to support innovation, is welcome but could be strengthened by coordinating with the Transforming Construction Programme and Construction Innovation Hub. These networks could form an ideal arena for testing and standardisation of MMC processes and components, as well as ensuring they comply with building regulations.

The Government will also need to improve data collection and sharing if it is to overcome reluctance to utilise MMC among lenders, insurers and home buyers. To gain the confidence of the industry as a whole, as well as consumers, they must establish a database of MMC homes to demonstrate the long-term value and durability of MMC. The committee backs the creation of an MMC Scheme, setting out a single set of standards for warranty providers, to provide greater certainty.

However, an expansion of MMC faces many additional challenges including difficulties accessing land to build on, opaque and confusing building regulations and high upfront costs. The Government should investigate the specific impact of the current regulatory systems and access to funding on MMC, and consider options for measures designed to overcome existing barriers.

‘If the Government is to have any chance of meeting its target of 300,000 new homes a year it cannot simply rely on traditional methods of construction. They must make a serious effort to support the use of new and emerging technologies that have the potential to have a transformative impact on the speed, cost and quality of home building,’ said Clive Betts, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.

‘This is not simply about shifting production away from the building site and into factories. It is about seizing opportunities that modern technologies allow, whether it be precision manufacturing, use of new materials or digital working,’ he pointed out.

‘First and foremost they must create the conditions to improve investor and consumer confidence. Reluctance is understandable. The perception is that the building innovations of the sixties created homes that failed to survive half a century, while rows of Victorian terraces are still standing. Proving quality and longevity will be key. That is why we have called on the Government to collect and publish the data that prove new building methods work, and also show if they have failed,’ he explained.

‘The Government will also need to support the industry to grow the capacity needed for MMC to play a greater role in national housebuilding. They will need to ensure that the right training schemes and apprenticeships are in place so that we have the skilled workforce that can utilise MMC techniques. They must also work with the industry to support the development of robust supply chains and support innovative businesses develop,’ he added.

‘The housing system is in urgent need of a major boost and if the Government is to have any chance of meeting its ambitious target it must grasp every opportunity new technologies allow. But they must act fast and act now,’ he concluded.

It also recommends that local authorities need to start building homes in far greater numbers than they have done in recent years and helping home builders to access land for development is key if we are to increase rates of home building, adding that if current schemes are insufficient to provide the finance needed to increase MMC output, new schemes aimed at MMC developments should be considered.

Off-site housing construction and manufacturing could help to achieve faster delivery on-site than traditional construction, with schemes completed in about two thirds of the time, according to Erica Belcher, researcher at the Centre for London

.Modern Methods of Construction could also help to shift the workload from construction sites to the more controlled, safer environment of factories, reduce local environmental impact, and help to diversify the workforce,’ she pointed out.

‘But the transition to widespread adoption of off-site construction and manufacturing has been slow. We urgently need to develop skills, improve supply chains, promote the potential of new construction techniques, and ensure supportive policy and financing structures are in place,’ she explained.

‘This report from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee will put pressure on the government to make a step change to ensure that these methods can be part of the solution to the UK’s housing crisis,’ she added.