Framing The Offsite Conversation

25th January, 2020

The construction industry must find solutions to the escalating housing crisis that is reaching unsustainable levels. Fortunately offsite construction presents an opportunity for change. Steve Chesters, Southern Framing Sales Manager at Hadley Group, outlines the benefits and role light-gauge steel frames can play in its growth.

According to the National Housing Federation, an estimated 8.4million people in England currently live in unaffordable or unsuitable housing. It's an issue that affects all aspects of society, from record numbers of young people unable to get on the housing ladder, to the millions of families stuck on council homes waiting lists. The startling figures highlight that we're a nation that needs to start building, however uptake remains low. In 2017-18, only 6,463 social housing units were built in England, far below necessary levels. Likewise, UK homebuilders only completed 184,000 homes during the last recorded year of figures, which was way down on the government's target of 300,000.

A lack of available housing doesn't just force people into uncomfortable accommodation. The issue has broad societal implications, which extend cross demographics. Most notably, the link between sub-standard housing and poor health has been wellestablished. Whether it be the physical effects of cold, damp properties, or the mental exacerbation brought upon by living in crowded spaces, sub-standard homes are a risk to those inside them. Furthermore, the issue disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in society. The elderly and economically disadvantaged are most likely to face the harsh effects of the shortage, which means its consequences are more likely to cause serious problems.

For many years, the construction industry has looked for solutions to the ongoing problem. The effort has taken many forms and has yielded several promising solutions. The most appealing new approach is offsite construction. The method is quickly being prioritised by the industry and government due to its exciting potential.

Many in the industry first became aware of offsite construction after Mark Farmer's pivotal 'Farmer Review' in 2017. The influential report, which called on the construction industry to 'modernise or die' extolled the benefits of offsite construction and advocated for its further adoption by major construction companies. For Farmer, the benefits of the approach were clear - offsite construction methods reduced the likelihood of delays, required less skilled labour and allowed projects to be completed between 30% and 50% faster than by using traditional methods.

Since the report, there has been a noticeable uptake of offsite manufacturing techniques across the British housebuilding sector. Multiple developers and housebuilders have already committed to embrace offsite to address the issue. The push for offsite adoption was further bolstered by the Government's Autumn 2017 budget, which called on the Departments of Defence, Education, Health, Justice and Transport to favour offsite methods from 2019 onwards. Offsite methods are also being used on major construction projects like Battersea Power Station and the Leadenhall Building.

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