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MP calls for inquiry into offsite housing

Select committee chairman Clive Betts has said leaking homes at RSHP’s Oxley Woods scheme highlight ‘major issue’ with MMC

A leading MP has called for an inquiry into the use of modern methods of construction (MMC) in housebuilding after serious technical problems emerged on a flagship scheme.

Last week the AJ exclusively revealed details of leaking and ‘rotting’ homes at Oxley Woods, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners’ MMC project in Milton Keynes, which was built under the last government’s Design for Manufacture contest and won the 2008 RIBA Manser Medal.

The problems, detailed in a report by consultant GHPC and commissioned by the scheme’s developer Taylor Wimpey, have prompted 16 residents to lodge claims with the scheme’s insurer, the National House Building Council (NHBC), which is now assisting with a ‘remedial programme’.

Labour MP and chairman of the communities and local government select committee, Clive Betts, said the story highlighted a ‘major issue’ because of the pressing need to use MMC techniques such as prefabrication to tackle the country’s acute housing crisis.

‘There’s a real challenge over skills and materials [capacity] in the industry but we have to be very careful what we turn to,’ he said.

Betts’ committee is conducting an inquiry into the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and he said it was doubtful whether there would be Parliamentary time left for it to investigate MMC ahead of the general election.

But he added: ‘There’s a subject for an inquiry here.’

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott – who oversaw the Design for Manufacture or ‘£60,000 house’ competition – was quoted in last weekend’s Financial Times as saying the claims of technical problems at Oxley Woods were ‘absolutely bloody rubbish’.

However, speaking to the AJ on Tuesday, the Labour peer said he was seeking to find out more about the situation, including speaking to residents and RSHP.

He said: ‘I was a bit shocked and surprised … I only visited [Oxley Woods] a couple of months’ ago. A number of the £60,000 houses have been built and they’ve been very successful.

‘If we want to build 220,000 homes a year, you can forget about doing it only using the traditional manner.’

Newham Council is working with RSHP on a 36-home scheme in Stratford using a prefabricated housing system called ‘Homeshell’, which is similar to the method pioneered at Oxley Woods.

A spokeswoman for the local authority said it had discussed Oxley Woods during a regular planning meeting held on Tuesday.

She added: “The construction method and design on this site is different to the one used in Oxley Woods. We are working closely with both the architect and our contractor to ensure our development is high quality and long lasting.”

RSHP said last week that it was disappointed by issues at Oxley Woods, which it said had ‘materialised in the built product’.

A spokesman added: ‘Taylor Wimpey has not issued the report to RSHP, and therefore we are not in a position to comment on its contents, but we understand it states the issues are fully resolvable.’

Comment

Heinz Richardson is a director at Jestico + Whiles

‘It is laudable that we have pioneering schemes such as Oxley Woods, but our profession needs to be more transparent on the successes and failures of such innovations.

‘As the economy recovers and construction demand outstrips supply, there will be pressure to innovate to ensure delivery. The rub invariably comes when, in a dash to drive down cost and speed up construction, innovation is introduced, but time for testing solutions is not available.

‘No one likes to be associated with failure but, regrettably, the reluctance to share our experiences prevents others from learning valuable lessons. Even worse, as a general rule architects rarely revisit buildings and are often unaware of their failings. It is encouraging that the new RIBA plan of work has re-introduced post-occupancy evaluation as a much-needed (optional) work stage.

‘The Usable Buildings Trust charity has done excellent pioneering work in closing the feedback loop, in particular in assessing the actual performance of sustainable buildings compared with design objectives. But so much more is needed.

‘My hope with Oxley Woods is that we find out exactly what went wrong and learn from it. Should the RIBA rescind its Manser Medal award? I’m not sure that punishment for innovation is the right step. But the RIBA needs to take a rigorous and transparent line in ensuring that we don’t keep repeating mistakes.’

Readers' comments (2)

  • This calls into question a wider issue; what independent governance is put in place to ensure builders adhere to quality controls? The methods used have been around for some time and successfully used in other commercial and residential projects, so why have issues arisen here, at both detailed design and construction?
    And where should the architect's role end, given the potential impact on reputation when things do go wrong, such as in this case?

    Unsuitable or offensive?

  • Hal-Luke Savas

    unless we build homes like cars, we shall never eliminate the housing problem and the bubbles associated with it.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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