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03/07/2019

Reliance on traditional building methods will see government miss housing target

Words: Laura Edgar
Off-site housing construction / Shutterstock_509242891

The government has been warned that an ‘over-reliance’ on traditional building methods will prevent it from meeting its delivery target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee has urged the government to “unlock” the potential for modern methods of construction (MMC) to build homes quicker and cheaper but to maintain build quality.

To increase capacity and improve investor confidence, the government needs to act quickly if MMC is to have a “meaningful impact” on housebuilding targets.

The committee says that for MMC to contribute to increased housing delivery supply chain capacity must be increased and a greater focus should be placed on ensuring that the workforce has the required skill set for developing technologies.

It recommends that the government should work with Homes England and training centres such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre to develop targeted programmes for use in the manufacture of MMC homes.

The committee also found that in order to get close to creating 300,000 homes a year, local authorities must supply a significant proportion of them. It says social housing is particularly well suited to MMC because it often includes large numbers of similar homes. This reduces unit costs and provides certainty of demand to the supply chain.

Additionally, the committee advised the government to establish a database of MMC homes to demonstrate the long-term value and durability of MMC to gain industry confidence.

The report, Modern Methods of Construction, makes a number of other recommendations, including:

  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) should report every year on the amount of money allocated to MMC developments across its funding streams and implement a coordinated strategy across all relevant government departments to increase MMC homebuilding.
  • Housebuilders should use more digital technology in their processes and not simply move construction off-site.
  • The government should develop a digital database that records the design, processes and materials used in the construction of buildings.
  • The government must ensure that skills programmes, apprenticeship schemes and the new T Level give learners the skills they need for both traditional techniques and MMC and encourages more young people into the sector.
  • The government should help MMC homebuilders to access land that it controls so they can increase their overall delivery of homes and shore up demand for the supply chain.
  • The government should urgently set out a clear plan for the review of the building regulations, including the whole suite of approved documents, and consider how they relate to MMC buildings. These should set more stringent energy performance targets for homes.

Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said: “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 1960s 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 proves new building methods work, and also show if they have failed."


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Rory O’Hagan, director at Assael Architecture, said the committee’s report could not be timelier. With the traditional construction industry suffering from a shortage of skills, rising material costs and an ageing workforce, O'Hagan says that 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.”

Martin Tett, housing spokesperson for the Local Government Association, said: “It is good that the committee recognises the pivotal role councils can play in tackling the country’s housing crisis, and how we need to get councils building again if we are to stand any chance of meeting the government’s housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes a year.

“Lifting the housing borrowing cap was a big step forward, but we now need the government to go further in the Spending Review by devolving Right to Buy so councils retain 100 per cent of their receipts and can set discounts locally.”

Erica Belcher, researcher at Centre for London, said: “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.”

MMC 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.

“But the transition to widespread adoption of off-site construction and manufacturing has been slow. 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.”


The report can be found here on the UK Parliament website.

Image credit | Shutterstock

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