Construction News

Sun June 13 2021

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Atkins commissioned to prop up prefab push

21 May 20 Homes England, the government’s ‘housing accelerator’, has commissioned research to demonstrate how well prefabrication can deliver quick and cheap housing.

Factory-made housing from Urban Splash
Factory-made housing from Urban Splash

The aim of the research is “to encourage more widespread use of MMC technologies”.

Homes England’s support for offsite construction is all about productivity. The top-down drive has had less support at market level, however, which the government wants to shift by intervention, and persuade the market that it is wrong.

Under the catch-all banner of ‘modern methods of construction’ (or MMC), the study will encompass the benefits of different forms of prefabrication, from the use of modular components and pods, to CKD kit houses and panel systems – all of which are deemed to be ‘modern’ in industry jargon.

Consulting engineer Atkins and its quantity surveying subsidiary Faithful & Gould have ben given the contract to assess a series of Homes England’s own sites, monitoring the construction of around 1,500 homes across country over several years.

“The study will test the performance of different types of MMC to provide long-term, in-depth and verifiable data so that informed decisions about emerging construction technologies can be made,” Homes England said.

Sites confirmed as being part of the study so far include:

  • Northstowe Phase 2a, a 406-home neighbourhood of prefab factory-built houses in Cambridgeshire being brought forward by House by Urban Splash, which is a joint venture of Urban Splash, Japan’s Sekisui House and Homes England. The homes will be manufactured in the House factory in Alfreton, Derbyshire.
  • Spencer’s Park in Hemel Hempstead, a 600-home development by Countryside, where the homes will all be closed panel timber frame units.
  • The 87-home York Road development being delivered by Vistry Partnerships in Birmingham. The homes will be built using a timber frame closed panel system, delivered to site for assembly.

The study will also monitor sites in Swindon, Warrington, Newcastle and Milton Keynes, with details to be announced in the coming months.

Homes England says that “modern methods of construction have the potential to be significantly more productive than traditional building methods; allowing homes to be built more quickly, addressing labour and skills shortages and improving the quality, consistency and energy efficiency of newly built homes”.

The research will explore a range of themes, including construction cost and pace of build compared to traditional building methods, skills required, safety performance, snagging and defect issues, construction wastage, energy efficiency performance and post-occupation performance.

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It is not clear whether design life and whole-life cost will be factored in to the study.

The task handed to Atkins and Faithfull & Gould is made clear in the Homes England press release: “The study will also seek to… encourage more widespread use of MMC technologies.”

The consultants will work with the Building Research Establishment and University College London to collect data from the developers and produce annual updates on the research findings, before a final report is published at the end of the build programme.

Housing minister Christopher Pincher said: “Building the homes the country needs is a priority for the government and modern methods of construction have enormous potential to not only accelerate this work but to deliver better quality homes too.

“I am delighted that this research will bring together some of the most promising housebuilding innovations around today. Such an extensive and practical study will no doubt inform housebuilding for years to come.”

Homes England chief executive Nick Walkley said: “If we are to deliver homes at the scale, pace and quality the country needs, we have to seriously shake up how we build homes in England. This is at the very heart of our mission and it means embracing new technologies like modern methods of construction.

“Now more than ever, we recognise that more needs to be done to share learning and build confidence in MMC. This large-scale, long-term and in-depth research project will provide the sector with the critical evidence it needs to make informed decisions about MMC and deliver better homes faster.”

Atkins director Jon Swan said: “Our team will gather comparable and verifiable data to evaluate how MMC could be used to solve the construction industry’s flatlining productivity and other key challenges within the UK’s residential sector.”

Andrew Prickett, head of residential at Faithful & Gould, added: “The UK is currently tasked with the target of delivering 300,000 new homes every year. Through this landmark initiative, we will collect and analyse a substantial body of data to quantify the performance of modern methods of construction and bring clarity to the housing industry on the benefits of choosing this technology. Working closely with Homes England, this is a great opportunity to explore house building best practice and find ways to make housing safer, more affordable and more efficient to build.”

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