A free-market and traditionalist rallying cry has been issued by an organisation calling itself the Building Alliance in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry.
The House of Lords science & technology committee is conducting an enquiry into offsite manufacture for construction. Many industry leaders, such as Mace chief executive Mark Reynolds, Laing O'Rourke technical director Sarah Williamson, Mott MacDonald chief technical officer Mark Enzer, and surveyor Mark Farmer who wrote the definitive government-commissioned manifesto for prefabrication, have given evidence in support of offsite construction and essentially making the case for more government support. Kier, NG Bailey, Sverfield, WSthe Civil Engineering Contractors Association, Arup and Heathrow Airport are also among the raft of organisations to tell the committee about the benefits of offsite manufacture for construction and how its uptake should be encouraged.
The Building Alliance, however, takes a strikingly different stance, predicting a return to the architectural problems of the 1960s, as already being foreshadowed by the Grenfell Tower fire, a further escalation in the £58bn balance of trade deficit and the death of the mason.
In its evidence to the Lords’ committee the Building Alliance says: “We are currently witnessing government sponsored market interference on an unprecedented scale. That is supported by significant tax payer’s subsidies and Homes England funding is now being limited to projects that feature modular or off-site construction. This practice is anti-competitive and unfair to the British masonry industry.
“The government is not qualified in such matters and should remain material and system neutral, but instead seems to want to adopt the role of principal designer, a role future governments might come to regret if we experience more disasters such as the tragic events of Grenfell.”
It adds that traditional bricks and mortar are “preferred by consumers, cost some 15% less, are non-combustible and flexible and are built to last 150 years”.
Structural timber cannot be grown in the UK, it says, so all of it is imported, much of it from Russia. Lightweight steel is also predominantly imported. By contrast, traditionally-built homes are made of 80% UK materials, it says.
The Building Alliance calls for a return to free-market values in the construction industry. “Professional decision makers should be empowered to make objective decisions in a free market. The use of government funded incentives, bullying and unfair procurement rules to try and force the use of off site is anti-competitive and unacceptable. The history of such interventions such as the one to push diesel cars is littered with unintended consequences.”
The Building Alliance's evidence submitted to the House of Lords science & technology committee can be seen in full at http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/science-and-technology-committee-lords/offsite-manufacture-for-construction/written/82010.html
Other submissions can be found at https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/science-and-technology-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/off-site-manufacture-construction/off-site-manufacture-construction-publications/