Are conditions now right for the industrialisation of housing using MMC?

Between the involvement of Homes England to accelerate the use of modern methods of construction (MMC), an increased drive for better quality and safer homes, and delivering zero carbon housing, MMC’s time has finally come, according to its champion Mark Farmer.

The author of the Farmer Review 2015: Modernise of Die which took a detailed look into the challenges facing construction believes that with the sector facing pressures from three sides as never before, more public and private sector developers will turn to MMC.

But he warns significant hurdles still face the wide scale adoption of volumetric and panelised construction techniques, particularly around the availability of labour and appropriate skills.

“Insidious” challenges becoming more acute

While the need to build carbon-zero homes and tackle building safety has never been greater, both the pandemic and Brexit have potentially made the labour and skills issue worse.

Speaking at a panel discussing MMC at Housing 2021, Farmer explained the construction Labour market has become less resilient after every economic downturn but noted particular issues following the 2008 financial crisis.

“That’s really started to show itself in the last few years, and Covid and Brexit have added fuel to the fire,” he said.

“It’s important not to conflate the two issues of resource scarcity and the impact on our labour market. Physical barriers to production might be around Brexit, might be around Covid, but really at the heart of this is that we have less and less people in key labour markets that are able to do the work that we need.”

But with carbon zero and building safety issues now very prevalent, he added, “I’m expecting an acceleration of the use of MMC going forward.

“Aggregation and standardization are key to MMC success. Partners need to come together around programmes of work, around the characteristics of what we build, and that’s a tricky thing to do and needs an evolution in how we approach housing.”

Eleanor Bowden, Senior Strategy Manager at Homes England, talked about the range of initiatives the body has in place to encourage its strategic partners – both for-profit and not-for-profit developers – to use modern methods.

She warned the expanded take up of MMC might be held in check by a lack of affordability and a “consumer incentive” that acted as a powerful marketing tool for other innovative products.

“If Government can enable change or the market discovers the commercial value of consumer incentives to [buy] an MMC home, industrialisation of MMC could happen and could happen quite quickly,” she said.

Still room – and a need – for traditional skills

Farmer added that it was not the case that MMC skills would replace traditional abilities, but that the two needed to work together.

“You still need in many cases bricks for facades, perhaps for planning permission (local design etc), use of brick slips, and skills like electricians and plumbers. We need a kind of diverse range of training but many of the skills are transposable.”

 

Please Note: Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication. Any written guidance provided does not replace the reader’s professional judgement and any construction project should comply with the relevant Building Regulations or applicable technical standards. However, for the most up to date LABC Warranty technical guidance please refer to your Risk Management Surveyor and the latest version of the LABC Warranty technical manual.

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