Changing Offsite Construction

13th June, 2018

Under its headline banner of 'raising standards, protecting homeowners' the NHBC plays a pivotal role in the UK housing sector and is key to providing guidance and information on construction techniques. As it witnesses an upsurge in interest in offsite construction, it recently hosted a Roundtable Event to discuss quality and performance.

It is increasingly clear that boosting housing output at a time of declining
skills requires evermore innovation by the housebuilding industry and the greater use of non-traditional building methods. The NHBC are seeing increased numbers of systems and components being put forward for assessment against the NHBC Standards. Such reviews are essential,to be assured that homes and their component parts are designed, manufactured and constructed to consistently meet performance standards. This summarises the introduction given by Graham Sibley, Market Development Manager of the NHBC and quality was a consistent theme throughout the discussions. To underpin the quality agenda the panel - a mixture of public sector organisations and private sector offsite manufacturers - focused on the need to forge strong partnerships model to ensure consistency and continuity of supply and alongside an auditable approach. All geared towards continuous improvement and knowledge sharing. Whilst more homes are needed faster it should not be at the expense of quality. A finebalance is required betweenvolume, quality and speed of deployment, meaning key stakeholders such as the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Homes England and the Greater London Authority (GLA) should play a central role to evangelise for the adoption of offsite construction techniques but with a cautious approach to pushing the boundaries - 'leading edge technology not bleeding edge technology'.

Both MHCLG and the GLA were strongly represented at the roundtable and responded positively to the question of: 'Is greater Government involvement with policy/legislation required to drive offsite uptake?' It is clear that there is an understanding within these circles that large volumes are required to achieve the desired economies of scale and that these volumes need to be confirmed to encourage a steady pipeline of demand rather than the present 'erratic' demand profiles - no doubt this can be achieved with the much lauded concept of 'aggregated demand'. But this may require direct intervention at a local authority level to ensure that similar clients are collaborating to achieve this aim. It is here that more 'enforcement' of standardising technologies, processes and footprints is likely to be required. Consistent Thinking and Promotion in London the GLA has been explicit in its desire to see greater standardisation, recently commissioning a dedicated research project in this area.

It has also incentivised the uptake of offsite technology through key partnerships and innovation funding, which may ultimately lead to the establishment of localised manufacturing facilities and structured offsite frameworks.

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