There are real challenges for stakeholders in residential development at present – increasing housing demand but continued supply shortfall, challenging land prices, skills shortages, and political and social uncertainty. Residential development doesn’t happen in a social vacuum, and the sector has to be innovative and responsive to keep up with the demands placed upon it in a profitable way.
'Modern methods of construction’ is one of the responses offered to these challenges, and the industry has moved on significantly from ‘prefabs’ – which you can still find around the country despite being a supposed short-term post-war solution to housing supply. Whether it is timber framed construction, volumetric build projects, or just pod assembly for rooms, ‘MMC’ and the concept of offsite construction for onsite assembly has been around for a while as a solution to the demands for more, for less. For private buyers, institutional funders, and the larger end users (such as PRS providers, and registered providers in the affordable housing sector), the requirements are simple - it is not so much how you build, but what you deliver that matters, and the end result must be safe, secure and saleable.
While a number of registered providers have now realised the benefits that MMC can bring to their operations, and a number have in-house production facilities, there has been less immediate take-up by the larger house builders. Arguably, the housing sector (rather than the house building sector) can more readily align itself with innovative construction methods, as it is more aligned already with the design and operational issues from a professional end user perspective, and whole life costings, value for money and return on capital invested is part of their way of working.
So far, there seem to have been operational concerns in the mainstream house building sector with implementing large scale MMC. The volume builders have been concerned about increased capital and process costs, the need for early design fixes (and then the relative inflexibility of the process post-fix), and the need (ideally) for integrated supply chain processes. Despite the known construction skills shortage, there has also been concern that MMC brings a new set of skills shortages, which will need investment to deliver on a wider scale. That said, MMC is often thought of and used for building elements – wet rooms, roof construction and cladding solutions – not just whole building construction.
It seems strange to be saying it is ‘early days’ for an approach to construction that has been around since the second world war, and clearly there remains a place for traditional procurement routes with bricks and mortar, but MMC has the potential to capacity build significantly in the market place, if the issues and concerns around costs of entry and consistency for volume delivery can be cracked. MMC won’t go away, and the challenge to everyone in this sector is to work together to ensure that housing need is addressed creatively, appropriately and in a timely manner. Modern methods of construction will clearly be one way to address that challenge.
“I want to see modern methods of construction – the new gold standard of building – being used up and down the country to usher in a green housing revolution." Esther McVey