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MPs warn housebuilders must embrace modern methods of construction

Wednesday 3rd July 2019

MPs warn housebuilders must embrace modern methods of construction

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has warned the Government that an over-reliance on traditional building methods will see the UK fall far short of its target to build 300,000 new homes a year by mid-2020s.

In a new report, the Committee urges the Government to unlock the potential for modern methods of construction (MMC) to build homes quicker, more cheaply, while maintaining build quality. However, they will need to act quickly to increase capacity and improve investor confidence if it is to have a meaningful impact on UK housebuilding targets.

At present, use of MMC in housebuilding is low and the government will need to act quickly if it is to make an impact in meeting house building targets. Supply chain capacity will need to be increased, and greater focus placed on ensuring the workforce has the required skillset for developing technologies. 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.

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.

Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts MP said: “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. 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.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

Rory O’Hagan, director at Assael Architecture, added: “Today’s report from the housing, communities and local government committee stating the urgent need for a wholesale embrace of modern methods of construction couldn’t be more timely. As the traditional construction industry suffers from skills shortages, rising material costs and an ageing workforce, we need to find new ways to deliver housing and social infrastructure at volume, without compromising on quality or beauty. Without adopting modern methods of construction more widely, we will continue to miss targets year after year and the quality of new builds will suffer.

“The built environment must take note of the opportunity it currently faces and shake off its current malaise. The time for disruption in the housing sector is long overdue and the emerging digital platforms and precision engineering techniques offer the step change required. The onus is now on us to push and pioneer what modern methods can offer to UK housing by being honest with both clients and consultants.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Tide Construction and Vision Modular Systems UK Ltd

By Isla Macfarlane - showhouse.co.uk

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