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Modern Methods of Construction: Expectation v Reality

14/05/19
Posted by: Christopher Ruddick

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) is never far away from the industry news in 2019.

We continue to see more announcements, and more importantly from more and more of the volume players within the market. An example of this is Barratt’s recent announcement that 20% of their new homes would be utilising modern methods of construction.

These major players, and equally the SME’s are in a fight in a number of key areas within the industry

  1. Volume to meet Government targets that are far higher than in recent times
  2. Volume to still produce enough turnover and ultimately profit for the company
  3. Delivering a product of enough quality to meet the requirements of the company
  4. Delivering a product that meets the guidelines of the warranty provider, for example the NHBC
  5. Expectation of mortgage companies and other invested parties that the houses will last a significant period of time

But, the issue still remains about will these new methods of construction meet all the changes faced by the industry?

Or in other words is this another development (pardon the pun) where the expectation and reality can be poles apart, in reality delivering very little in the way of improvement for an industry already struggling to meet all those goals listed above.

So, what are the expectations in the industry for modern methods of construction? Modern methods of construction for many being the usage of modular new homes produced in factories which seems the most prominent method.

  1. Quicker delivery of new homes
  2. Potential to reach Homes England (Government) targets for new homes average built per year
  3. More opportunities for diverse design whilst minimising costs as they can be tested and developed in a more controlled environment
  4. Environmental benefits
  5. Cleaner production and delivery of new homes
  6. Introduce different skillset and the potential to use less external parties
  7. Less current skillset of the current construction workforce that potentially could ease the issues surrounding a number of roles within the industry
  8. Health & Safety is more controlled in a factory environment than onsite
  9. Accuracy of new homes to avoid mistakes that have the potential to cause issues for a housebuilder
  10. Improvements in quality of new homes that can reduce the public perception of new homes being of less quality than older used homes
  11. Increase affordability for many looking to buy in the market
  12. Potential to respond faster to resolve issues that Customer Care pickup in delivery of new homes

These expectations are very diverse and there is a number of potential pitfalls that the industry still needs to overcome to meet expectation of MMC.

  1. It is only an outside chance of reaching the Government target and there would still be a need to build homes faster than ever before
  2. Would design even become a priority (or feature as a requirement) in a “race” to build more new homes or equally because building homes in factory would producing new designs not be altered as it is easier to not change designs?
  3. Are we necessarily in the process of building these new homes in a factory going to be building the right type of homes? Historically this has been an issue for a number of years and the industry has never quite responded as quickly as necessary to capture what the market is now requiring
  4. Despite there being a reduction of pressure on the construction skills market there are still a number of roles required on site that will need to be found, and in some particular skills areas onsite pressure might actually not decrease, but increase
  5. Different skillsets brings different type of people into the industry, but will those people be aware of the changes in industry and will construction necessarily be able to attract those required skillset into it? Historically the industry has never been truly effective at changing the image and bringing new blood into it, so what are the chances that the industry has “turned a corner” and will be able to promote this image change and bring the right type of talent into it to meet the requirements of MMC?
  6. There is still a need to produce foundations for these homes onsite which introduces a number of pressures that need to be accounted for:
    • Quicker delivery means more pressure potentially on the smaller team working onsite to deliver foundations
    • Accuracy of these preparatory requirements will need to improve as these factory made modular homes will have the potential for less tolerance
  7. There has already been a number of issues that the NHBC has had to raise with a number of housebuilders that wish to meet the required guidelines and requirements for a warranty via them and more worryingly these issues have been structural to some of the buildings involved.
  8. The mortgage industry and numerous other third parties are still in some cases risk averse to the usage of MMC and concerned over longevity and safety and ultimately “protecting their investment” in these new methods
  9. Investment from the players involved in the market increases risk right at the start of the project with significant levels of the investment being required as the project starts and in some particular areas produces little tolerance to alter it later on.

Overall, then what is the answer for expectation v reality for the construction industry when utilising these new methods?

Well it is hard to argue that it represents a massive opportunity for the industry, but the pitfalls could mean that the reality is no where near those expectations. Put simply it is in the industries hands to make it a success or not and change public perception of new homes (and equally previous “modular” type buildings).

 

 

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