Mar 20, 2019 Last Updated 5:04 PM, Mar 20, 2019

Meeting the housing demand

Published in Talking Point
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In this article, Geoff Fawkes, Director of The McAvoy Group, looks at how off-site construction is helping to address the housing crisis by increasing productivity.

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According to a report published by Shelter, 250,000 new homes a year need to be built in the UK to keep up with demand – and yet only 163,000 new homes were delivered in 2017. There are currently 24,000 households in housing stress in Northern Ireland alone. The unprecedented demand for new housing has created a systemic crisis.

There is a severe shortage of affordable homes and homelessness continues to increase year on year. There is a lack of skilled labour in construction, compounded by Brexit and an ageing workforce. The building industry has a poor delivery record with too many projects still fraught with sub-standard quality, delays and budget overruns. To quote one recent article – “too few homes, built at too high a price, for too few people”.

In response, the Government has set a target to build 300,000 new homes annually by the mid-2020s and has pledged its support to increase the use of off-site construction to help address the challenges. This commitment is reinforced by the House of Lords Committee Report into off-site manufacture which calls for a radical overhaul of the construction industry.

A surge in interest in modern construction methods

There has been a surge in interest in new construction methods in recent years and particularly in off-site solutions as traditional ways of working continue to fall short of the required standards and volumes. The UK construction industry has often been slow to adopt new technologies and processes – which is why it now has one of the lowest productivity rates in Europe.

Off-site construction though is not new – modular building systems have been widely used for decades from schools and healthcare schemes to hotels, commercial buildings and infrastructure projects. But are the skills transferable?

Our view is there is far less risk in using an off-site manufacturer with a proven track record, readily available production capacity and who already has expertise as a principal contractor.

How to simplify procurement and improve quality control

There are now multiple options in the UK off-site housing sector for manufacturers to produce structures which are installed onto pre-prepared foundations – leaving design, groundworks and other aspects of the project to others.

In our experience, this approach is far less efficient, and quality control issues can arise where there is no single point of contact. Our solution is to give developers and housing providers an entirely seamless turnkey service encompassing design, planning approvals, site preparation and groundworks, building manufacture, off-site fitting-out, landscaping and infrastructure. This option delivers improved quality control, effective cost management and simplifies procurement and project management for the client.

Understanding the clear benefits

There are clear benefits of building new homes in a factory, which have been well-documented and are demonstrated with the use of off-site solutions in other sectors.

Build programmes can be halved for a faster return on investment and earlier handover for occupation.

The quality of factory construction can far exceed site-based building methods. Off-site is not affected by poor weather or damage to materials on site. It is not reliant on sub-contracted labour, but instead uses a highly trained, permanent and multi-skilled workforce, manufacturing buildings in safe, purpose-designed factory environments. This has a hugely positive impact on the quality of construction. There is less disruption to neighbouring properties, fewer vehicle movements to sites and far less material wastage.

With independent accreditations such as BOPAS (the Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme), developers, investors and lenders can now have the benefit of stringent assessments to certify that a building system, such as the McAvoy off-site housing solution, will deliver consistent performance for at least 60 years. This significantly reduces risk and ensures long-term mortgageability.

The need for more enlightened clients

There is a clear lack of knowledge about the quality of buildings manufactured off-site, the whole-life cost performance, the technical ability of manufacturers and new off-site innovations. These are restricting the use of off-site manufacture but can change if procurement models, professional bodies and Government actively reflect the benefits and drive its use in construction, particularly for publicly-funded housing schemes.

What we need now are more enlightened clients, such as Clanmil Housing Association, with the passion and commitment to break the mould and apply new techniques to deliver growth. To help address the challenges around productivity, reliable delivery, quality and the affordability of new housing, developers in both public and private sectors should be willing to adopt more innovative building techniques. We will then be able to revive the ailing house-building sector.

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