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‘Radical’ overhaul of construction sector is required, say Lords

Words: Laura Edgar
Off-site housing construction / Shutterstock_509242891

The House of Lords has reported that the construction sector cannot meet the UK’s housing needs and ‘may struggle’ to meet its infrastructure needs.

It lags behind other countries in productivity and is facing a labour shortage.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s report Off-site Manufacture for Construction: Building for Change, concludes that off-site construction (OSM) could help to increase productivity in the sector, while simultaneously reducing the environmental impacts associated with traditional construction.

Currently, though, off-site manufacturing is “somewhat limited” across the sector because of outdated and unsustainable business models.

It requires clients, designers and contractors to collaborate at an early stage, but the committee said that evidence it had received suggested that the construction sector is “fragmented” and “lacking in trust”. It said this needs to be addressed and “strong leadership” is required from the Construction Leadership Council.

While off-site manufacturing can reduce the impact of labour shortages, a different skill set is required for manufacturing – such as site implementation, digital and procurement – skills the sector currently does not have.

The committee recommends that the government should make sure that young people entering the workplace are equipped with the digital skills needed for modern methods of construction, including off-site manufacture.

For the government to achieve its 300,000-home a year target, off-site manufacturing must be used, according to evidence submitted to the Lords. The committee called for the government to set out what conditions it will attach to the extra financial support for housing to drive the uptake of off-site manufacture.

Chairman of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Lord Patel, said: “There are clear and tangible benefits from off-site manufacture for construction which make a compelling case for its widespread use. We heard evidence that OSM could increase productivity in the sector by up to 70 per cent.

“The construction sector’s business models are no longer appropriate and are not supporting the UK’s urgent need for new homes and infrastructure. The construction sector needs to build more trust and create partnerships so that companies can work together to improve the uptake of off-site manufacture, and the Construction Leadership Council should provide the necessary leadership.

“The role of the government and the wider public sector is pivotal in a move to greater use of off-site manufacture. The report sets out actions that the committee thinks the government should take including implementation of the Construction Sector Deal, committed execution of the ‘presumption in favour’ of off-site manufacture and a greater move to procuring for whole-life value rather than lowest cost.”

Matthew Bool, construction partner at law firm Ashurst, said the report “rightly recognises the importance of offsite manufacturing to the future of the sector and to addressing the UK's housing crisis but uptake of it depends on ensuring that there is sufficient infrastructure and trained personnel to develop and implement it”.  

“The commitment within the Construction Sector Deal to fostering innovation and skills is crucial to the success of off-site manufacture."

The report and the full list of recommendations can be found on the UK Parliament website (pdf).

Image credit | Shutterstock