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Can Modern Methods of Construction be used to help solve the housing crisis?

9th October 2019

Over the past several years, Modern Methods of Construction (or MMC) has been sparking interest across the construction industry and has been transforming the way homes and commercial properties are built. MMC has the potential to be a game changer when it comes to house builders and housing associations meeting the housing needs of the country.

What are Modern Methods of Construction?

Modern Methods of Construction is a collective term used to refer several construction techniques. Some of these techniques involve producing units in a factory under controlled conditions. After production, the units are then transported to site where they are craned into position. Types of MMC can include flat panels units (floor, roof or wall units) or full 3D modular units (which can be steel, timber or concrete based).

Benefits to the construction industry

Focusing particularly on the housing market, MMC has a number of benefits. These benefits may help tackle the UK housing crisis and aid the Government in reaching its target of building 300,000 new homes a year.

  • MMC allows for a reduction in build time of new homes.
  • MMC also allows for a more consistent quality assurance process, with units often being commissioned before they leave the factory.
  • Producing units in a factory also means construction isn’t bound to the weather. Adverse weather conditions can either slow down or completely halt construction on site. This can lead to significant delays in the build programme.
  • It’s estimated that if the 300,000 homes per year target was met, an additional 195,000 workers would be needed by 2025. A combination of factors has led to a skills shortage in the construction industry in the UK. As it stands, there aren’t enough available skilled workers to cover demand (so if you’re reading this as a skilled worker looking for work, don’t forget to register with us!). Adopting MMC techniques will take some of the work off-site and could allow the industry to take advantage of different skills. MMC may even provide new employment opportunities in areas of the UK with higher unemployment, by strategic placement of new MMC factories.

What are the risks of Modern Methods of Construction?

Alongside the advantages, MMC also presents some pitfalls. For example, consideration needs to be given to ensure the site and approaching roads have access for delivery of the units. There’s also the fact that several house builders did invest into MMC prior to the last recession but were left with empty factories when the recession hit. Fire risk is another problem, with some methods being said to have allowed fires to spread more quickly, particularly in timber-framed properties.

Success stories

According to a NHBC Foundation Survey conducted in November 2018, the majority of house builders and housing associations are using or have considered at least one MMC technique in recent years. Persimmon’s Space 4 business has increased capacity to manufacture up to 9500 units per year. Barratt are aiming to deliver 20% of new homes using modern methods of construction by the end of next year. Housing Associations Accord Group and Swan Housing Association have both set up their own MMC factories to manufacture directly (these factories have already delivered modular homes to developments).

There’s an argument that MMC techniques shouldn’t be used as a blanket approach and implemented across all sites, but rather it’s suitability should be evaluated on a job by job basis. However, in spite of some issues, it looks like growing the volume of homes manufactured by MMC has the potential to be a real part of the solution of the UK’s housing crisis.

 

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