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Fri May 27 2022

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Report seeks to accelerate use of modular construction

29 Jul 21 A new report calls for the government and housebuilders to work together so that more UK homes can be built using modular construction.

Marlborough Park in Swindon
Marlborough Park in Swindon

The report by Places for People and the University of Cambridge says that housebuilding rates are just half of the 300,000 required annually and are ‘insufficient to meet accumulated need’. It outlines the main barriers for housebuilders as being low productivity, labour shortages, lack of collaboration and failure to embrace new technologies to meet development targets.

It calls on the government and house-builders to come together and pave the way to create more UK homes using modular construction.

The report, Deploying Modular Housing in the UK, is the work of property management, development and regeneration company Places for People and the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Housing & Planning Research. They have outlined a joint vision for accelerating the use of modular construction in the UK market.

Among the recommendations within the report are calls for government support – both financially through grants and subsidies for developers using modular technologies, and through planning policy incentives. The report also calls for industry standards and warranties akin to traditional builds, something the authors say will ‘provide certainty and confidence’ not only for housebuilders, but for end users and for traditional lenders who are sometimes cautious of loaning on modular homes.

The answer, the report says, lies in systematic data capture and evidence collection by house-builders to create a strong evidence base of the benefits of offsite housing construction and modern methods of construction (MMC). It says that this would help to combat customers’ mistrust, overcome risk aversion and boost confidence among lenders.

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Scott Black, group executive director – development at Places for People, said: “There are so many potential benefits to creating homes using modular technologies, but there are a host of current barriers and constraints that need addressing.

“Issues such as regulatory and approval barriers, skills shortages in the factories and a lack of cross-sector support are hindering the growth of modular construction – slowing down the take-up. As an industry, we have the vision and the capabilities, but we need to pull together to address the barriers outlined in this report, and pave the way for a sustainable, modular future, one underpinned by an adequately skilled workforce who can drive the technology forward – helping establish it as a credible building practice for future consumers.”

The report also addresses the skills shortage in the UK sector, with traditional and modular building skills varying greatly. Gemma Burgess, director of the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research at the University of Cambridge, co-authored the piece: “Another important factor is the need for investment in the development of a different set of skills than those used on traditional sites,” she said. “This can be achieved by equipping the industry’s labour force with the necessary tools – including digital literacy and the use of new software and knowledge in offsite manufacture. This will all go hand in hand with retraining schemes and education programmes in collaboration with national and local government, education providers, industry bodies and the housebuilding industry.”

The 34-page report also proposes the idea of ‘innovation champions’ among housebuilders and developers – individuals and companies who actively use modular and offsite approaches and MMC in order to boost their efforts and promote the benefits of innovation. Other recommendations include proposals for the standardisation of materials, and having a ‘kit of parts’ to be used across the industry by different manufacturers – something that Scott Black again says will come through collaboration: “The more we share, the more we will learn,” he said. “There do however need to be initiatives to promote this within the housebuilding industry – the Building Better group (NHF 2020) for example. Such plans would provide structures for effective communication, synthesise learning, and help to build networks and collaboration opportunities.”

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