On 5 November 2019, Housing Minister Esther McVey announced that a Champion for Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) had been appointed. Mark Farmer, who has 30 years’ experience in construction and real estate, will be an ambassador for UK MMC, promoting innovation in the sector and advising the government on how best to increase the use of MMC in housebuilding.
The move comes alongside an increasing interest in the potential of MMC to speed up construction, increase energy efficiency and reduce construction waste, among other benefits. MMC are also attracting interest for their potential to solve the housing crisis through the provision of affordable and social homes.
Government seeing the potential
MMC refer to construction methods that use innovative techniques and materials (e.g. volumetric construction, prefabrication, panelised systems, etc.) and offsite manufacturing methods to increase the speed, energy efficiency and cost of construction.
Their growing prominence has been highlighted by Home England’s recent investment of £30 million in housing company Ilke Homes, an offsite manufacturer specialising in modular construction. The money, which comes from the Home Building Fund, represents the first time Homes England has ever directly invested in a specialist offsite manufacturer – showing that the government is now viewing MMC as a crucial tool in alleviating the housing crisis.
In fact, the Home Building Fund has provided more than £233 million of loans for MMC-based projects to date.
What are the benefits?
Advocates of MMC believe they can offer a string of benefits with the potential to revolutionise the housing sector. These include:
- Less disruption than onsite construction (i.e. more community-friendly)
- Quicker (the average modular building can be constructed 50% quicker than a traditional build)
- Lower cost
- Reduced carbon emissions due to more efficient production methods
- Less construction waste
- Completed homes are more energy-efficient and cost less to run (up to 70% lower heating bills)
- Better design and quality (up to 80% fewer defects)
But there are pitfalls
Critics have been quick to point out that many of the above benefits depend on the skills and infrastructure being firmly in place to facilitate them; but these (they argue) are currently lacking. A report from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) identifies a number of issues that are currently hindering MMC from being used to their full potential:
- Supply chains for many MMC technologies have yet to develop to a point at which we can meet the ambitions for the sector.
- There is currently a skills gap (including IT literacy) among construction workers which will need to be filled through high levels of investment in training and education.
- The industry lacks familiarity with offsite construction techniques, leading to risk averse decisions against using them.
- Consumer perceptions are still grounded in post-war, traditional building methods as the safest, most reliable way of delivering housing.
The start of a journey
It’s clear that MMC have a long way to go before they become fully established and accepted across the industry. Education and training, as well as public and private investment in MMC, are called for by RICS in the conclusion of its report. Indeed, with the housing crisis becoming ever more acute, the government looks set to continue investing heavily in MMC, making it more likely that these methods will become mainstream in the not-so-distant future.