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MPs urge government action to boost offsite construction

Proctor & Matthews Northstowe phase 2 housing
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A panel of MPs has urged ministers to ‘act fast’ to create the conditions for a new style of prefabricated housebuilding if they want to stand any chance of meeting its ambitious targets

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee said modern methods of construction (MMC) were critical to achieving the goal of 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s.

Last year, a developer survey for estate agent Knight Frank showed that just 1 per cent of respondents believed the UK would create 300,000 new homes in 2022.

The Commons committee said, in a report published today (3 July), that the government should consider a range of measures to ensure housebuilders could deliver homes using emerging techniques such as factory manufacturing, use of digital technology and working with new materials.

It said benefits of this approach included quicker, cheaper, better homes; less health and safety risk; more diversity; and reduced material waste, energy use and vehicle journeys.

‘We support the government’s ambition to add 1 million additional homes to the housing stock by 2020 and increase annual output to 300,000 by the mid-2020s,’ the report said. ‘However these volumes will not be achieved unless there is much wider adoption of MMC alongside traditional building methods.’

The MPs also urged a review of the Approved Documents that outline how to comply with Building Regulations, to ensure they were relevant to offsite construction.

‘The current suite of Approved Documents is confusing and difficult to comply with,’ they said. ‘It is particularly difficult for homebuilders that use MMC to apply the regulations to their developments. This could result in compromised safety standards in MMC buildings.’

Funding is also a key barrier to be overcome, the report said.

‘The plethora of different funds is confusing, so the government should provide signposting for homebuilders, to enable them to easily identify which funds they can access.’

The committee added that initiatives created to provide small housebuilders with finance to deliver modern construction should be monitored closely.

‘If current schemes are insufficient to increase MMC output, new schemes aimed at MMC developments should be considered.’

MPs concluded: ‘Now is the time for consistent action to: give clarity on standards for MMC homes; provide certainty of demand for the supply chain; introduce a bigger social housing programme; and substantially increase funding for MMC homes. We must stimulate a lasting increase in the use of MMC to help deliver the homes this country vitally needs.’

Committee chair Clive Betts 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.

‘It 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.’

Proctor & Matthews Architects in May released images of its much-anticipated modular housing scheme at Northstowe in Cambridgeshire, which will contain 406 homes made using modern methods of construction. (pictured

Comment

Rory O’Hagan, director at Assael Architecture
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 time for disruption in the housing sector is long overdue

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.

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