Modern methods of construction in social housing – the challenges

While major social housing providers are pressing ahead with their learning and adoption of offsite build, or modern methods of construction (MMC), smaller housing associations keen to follow may face different challenges.

At 2019’s UK Construction Week event, several housing associations described their experiences of MMC, what they had learned so far, and the challenges they continue to face. Challenges which even the larger providers will likely only know too well.

Here are three key barriers social housing providers typically face when adopting MMC – and how they are overcoming them.

Thinking of MMC? Plan for it from the start

In Northern Ireland, The McAvoy Group delivered 40 homes using offsite / MMC for Clanmill Housing Association, the first offsite scheme in the country. While the programme reduced the build time by around 60% to just 40 weeks, Peter Browne, Offsite Specialist at McAvoy, said there was no capital saving over a traditional build. However, he attributed this to the decision to adopt MMC part-way through the design process, rather than from the outset.

“If you want to do modular,” he told the seminar at UK Construction Week, “design and plan for it from the outset. This was not the case with this development, so it ended up costing more than would be typical.”

Nevertheless, Clanmill was able to take 56 weeks off the expected build time, a crucial and welcome method of reducing waiting lists within choice-based letting schemes. The energy-efficient homes in the Carrickfergus scheme required sensitive design thanks to their close proximity to the castle and siting within a Conservation Area, something MMC could deliver.

Bring in specialist expertise – and simplify procurement

Raven Housing Trust owns and operates around 6,000 homes in Surrey and Sussex and according to Development Director Alison Bennett is striving to provide affordable homes using MMC methods.

“MMC is not necessarily cheaper but it provides more opportunity to improve quality, build more quickly and get revenue in faster,” she said. However, she described finding MMC-appropriate sites as “really painful” and bemoaned the challenges of procuring products and suppliers. In describing the complexities Raven faced, she said, “Sometime it feels like we are trying to have a full-on wedding instead of a party.”

Raven is part of the National Housing Federation’s Builder Better scheme, a collaborative approach aiming to create a standardised MMC framework for housing associations to make the adoption of new methods simpler.

Raven has turned to construction management consultants to help them navigate the choppy MMC waters, but Alison neatly summed up what she believed housing associations needed for MMC to be more widely adopted.

“We need to make procurement simpler,” she said. “We need to develop a range of standard house types, aggregate land and schemes to create volume, make better use of data and agree a programme of knowledge and skills. Further collaboration is needed for smaller associations to adopt MMC.”

Using existing frameworks for procurement

Magna Housing, based in Somerset and Dorset, owns and manages around 8,500 homes. It has ambitions to use MMC to develop 200 affordable homes every year for the next decade.

To overcome the procurement obstacle, Magna used LHC Frameworks, a central purchasing body for organisations to source works, goods and services to construct, refurbish and maintain social housing, schools and public buildings.

Using the framework, Magna choose Rollalong to help it deliver a modular-first approach to building affordable homes. One factor in Rollalong’s success was its proximity to Magna’s developments – five of its site are within an hour of Rollalong, reducing transport time of completed offsite elements.

MMC challenges not just a smaller housing associations

The challenges housing providers face in making MMC work at scale are not confined to the smaller associations. The L&Q Group owns more than 95,000 homes, mostly across London and the South East. Even with more dedicated resources at its disposal, it too faces a steep learning curve, as our article revealed.

  • If you are looking to use MMC in your developments and would like some advice on warranty approval, please get in touch.

Every care was taken to ensure the information in this article was correct at the time of publication.

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