Shifting Building Mindsets

Legal & General Modular Homes (L&GMH) are one of the major names transforming housebuilding in the UK with sustainability and precision quality at the core of its offsite manufacture approach. Chief Executive, Rosie Toogood spoke to us about how they are helping deliver next generation living.

Q: Most industry observers would agree that L&GMH got off to a misfiring start but seems to be operating more smoothly now – what's changed and how have you realigned the way things work?

Rosie Toogood (RT): Transformation does not happen overnight. True innovation takes time. We have been creating a system to ensure that we can build the best quality homes in the most efficient way possible. We have had to get this right to start to deliver at scale. As a result, our innovative approach to housing delivery, has gained significant momentum within the marketplace with the business commencing construction on sites at Selby, Bristol and Broadstairs last year for the delivery of 450 homes. Having also acquired land at Littlestone, Kent, North Horsham and Warminster the business is currently seeking planning permission for the delivery of over 450 homes across these three sites where construction is expected to commence this year. The factory in Yorkshire is the largest in the UK. With capacity to produce 3000 homes annually, we employ 600 people and provide the skills and training our staff need through our Modular Academy.

Q: You took over as Chief Executive mid-2017, bringing design-led manufacturing and factory experience from Rolls-Royce – how has this mindset and approach transferred to creating volumetric modular homes?

RT: So many industries, automotive, aerospace, electronics to name but a few, have proven that modern manufacturing techniques significantly improve quality and speed of delivery whilst reducing cost and improving the product. Volumetric modular manufacturing has the potential to do the same for housebuilding but it is not easy. Typically, it takes many years of significant investment in people and culture as well as equipment and engineering to do it well and build to scale. The automotive industry for example has taken 100 years to get where it is now. Few businesses have the investment capacity, capability and skills needed to do this, many like to stick to the status quo. However, I'm pleased to see the volumetric modular industry in the UK maturing. We are committed to investing into this industry which will transform the housing industry. As we increase our output over the next few years we will create thousands of jobs, employing people directly in our factory and on construction sites as well as in the UK supply chain creating a new industry with meaningful jobs.

Q: The UK housing market has faced a shortfall in new homes for decades with an increasing number of 'market disrupters' offering various answers – how does L&GMH fit in to this dynamic?

RT: Society currently faces a dilemma. On the one hand, we have a decade to prevent catastrophic climate change. On the other, there is a chronic housing shortage that requires the provision of new homes – but building with conventional methods would only increase carbon emissions. It is possible that by transforming the way we build homes in this country we can also reduce emissions. There has been much talk of the benefits of volumetric modular technologies, but it has yet to really capture the public imagination. Beyond the pandemic, though, modern methods of construction can enable the construction of beautiful, high-quality homes at speed and – importantly – with lower carbon emissions than traditional methods.

Q: The 'traditional' way of housebuilding construction – masonry and site-based operations – is increasingly seen as outdated. Can offsite delivery, DfMA and factorybased methods really deliver lasting industry change?

RT: Absolutely. We believe that there will be many ways in which we build that would significantly benefit traditional housebuilders. Like how we have taken learning from industries such as the automotive industry, there are so many ways that we can be more efficient and innovate when it comes to housebuilding. For example, our way of building, by using a precision engineered system, ensures minimal snagging and results in a higher quality product. We can produce homes quicker by using offsite construction. We have a chronic housing shortage so one thing that is clear is that we can't stick to the status quo.

Q: How integral to the future of homebuilding is the understanding and use of digital tools and technology to develop energy efficient new homes and increase quality and productivity levels?

RT: The use of digital design tools is fundamental to our approach, and we have and will continue to invest heavily in their development, enabling us to broaden our product range and increase the efficiency of operations within our business and the supply chain. Our objective is to fully integrate our key business systems enabling a flow of information from design, through the procurement process, into production, construction and ultimately to customer support. This approach has transformed operations in other industries, and we are well on the way to doing so in our business with many of the resultant improvements in productivity and quality already being seen.

Q: In general, carbon reduction is central to everything we do in society, but there is an additional construction focus on understanding embodied energy more. How is L&GMH delivering its homes with sustainability issues and net zero targets in mind?

RT: At Legal & General, we have pledged to make all our new housing stock net zero in terms of operational carbon by 2030. Legal & General Group is therefore working to improve the thermal performance of homes and incorporate low-carbon technologies that will reduce the amount of energy used. This will be implemented in a phased approach across all homes in which the groups invests or that it builds. As we move towards net zero, modular housing provides us with an immediate advantage. L&GMH is already net zero regulated carbon capable and we will deliver our first 'net zero' homes at our site at Bonnington Walk Bristol later this year.

The combination of thermally efficient materials, air source heat pumps and solar panels, results in homes that are highly energy efficient with a greatly reduced carbon footprint both during construction and across the lifetime of each home. It also means significantly reduced heating bills for residents.

To put this into perspective our modular homes are 60% more efficient to run for the homeowner than a Building Regulations compliant newbuild home and our apartments are up to 30% cheaper to heat and run than the average apartment. If you also look at the cost in use and the amount of carbon used over the lifetime of the property, the results are impressive. Using one of our homes over a 100-year period would result in about 85 tonnes of carbon over that period. A similar newbuild home would emit about 213 tonnes. That's 40% less carbon than a Building Regulations compliant newbuild home. This is important as we need to be building homes that will last and keep up their quality and sustainability credentials throughout their lifetime.

Q: Can you say a little about the materials used for the volumetric modules – timber/light gauge steel/hybrid – what does each house comprise of and what stage of completion do the units exit the Sherburn-in-Elmet facility?

RT: Our houses are made primarily from cross laminated timber (CLT) with a steel floor on the ground floor sitting on the foundations. Our apartments are constructed of concrete and steel. The modules leave the factory fullyfitted, with bathrooms and kitchens fitted and walls painted. If you stood inside a module shortly after it landed at site, apart from some minor plastering required at the points where the modules joined, you would feel like you were in a completed new home.

Q: You have several projects at various stages of completion, including a new neighbourhood at Bore Hill Farm in Warminster. What feedback are you getting from developers and clients on the volumetric modular process?

RT: The feedback has been really positive with regards to the placemaking, quality of build, and space and light provided. Our site at Bonnington Walk, Bristol won a design award and our site at Selby was the regional finalist in the prestigious NHBC Pride in the Job awards.

Q: How do you see the offsite and volumetric modular sector developing over the next 18 months and what ideally do you want to see change from a L&GMH perspective?

RT: Our pipeline is growing rapidly and fundamentally the market's acceptance and perception of modular homes is definitely changing. Customers are excited to buy, rent and live in a home which embraces the best sustainability technologies available in the housing market, provides a real community feel with great placemaking and accessible open space for them to enjoy within the developments and saves on fuel bills as a result of the energy efficiency of the homes.

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