Housing conference reveals offsite opportunities and new innovations

11th April, 2019

Social media was abuzz as the Minister for Housing, Kit Malthouse, took to the speaker platform at the QEII, Westminster, London on 27 March to address over 250 construction professionals at the Explore Offsite Housing conference.

Despite the political wranglings over Brexit, he was in good form and even cracked a few jokes saying: "I was very keen to come and talk to a group of people who are exploring new techniques because it looks like we're going to be doing the same over the road this afternoon."

The audience was enthused by his comparison between the digital camera revolution and offsite construction technology shared in his opening: "Back in 1975, there was a guy who invented the digital camera, he took this to his management, but they turned him down, saying no thanks, keep quiet, in fact, keep it secret. And that company was Kodak, who at the time dominated the world of photography. Forty years on, it's a footnote in history, gone, bankrupt within two or three years of the advent of the digital camera - a technology which it itself invented."

The Minster then moved on to the challenge in-hand: "We have to revolutionise the way we do things in this country to build homes faster but also to help us increase capacity and productivity. We all know about the 300,000 houses a year by the mid-2020s, that's going to mean all of us thinking differently about the way we do things. I have been increasingly concerned about capacity and productivity, so I was keen to come along today and urge you to do what you can to promote these new techniques."

He then moved onto funding, adding: "Now, you might ask the question, well, what are you doing to help us? We've got about £2.5billion of our home building fund which is out there now, supporting MMC projects. We're pushing as hard as we can to encourage local authorities to include offsite approaches in their development plans, and we're starting to see members of the industry embrace offsite technologies, not least in the affordable housing programme where we similarly are trying to support the Housing Associations using these kinds of techniques."

A difficult act to follow, Kit Malthouse concluded his address with a Q&A session which ended with tremendous applause for the candid way in which he handled the questions. Under the banner of Modern Methods of Construction: Building Better, Building Faster - Senior Land Manager of Homes England Phil Collings explained how Homes England aims to achieve high-quality homes within well-designed neighbourhoods to work towards solving the housing crisis.

Homes England work across three main areas of business - land, loan investment and affordable housing grants - and recognises that the construction skills deficit is a barrier to building at scale, which is why innovation is vital in driving productivity and increasing house building against a backdrop of a shrinking labour force. Phil outlined that Homes England will implement offsite construction pilot sites that will provide opportunities for developers to test offsite technologies in a shared risk context and obtain technical data linked to pace of build, cost of the build, material wastage, labour productivity, sales performance, snagging/quality performance and liveability issues. With up to 200 funding agreements anticipated for completion in 2019/20, equating to 30,000 new homes, a £4.5 billion fund to support the SME housebuilding sector and a £1.7billion fund to support 22 strategic partners who will deliver circa 40,000 homes by March 2022 - Homes England are working with partners to scale up offsite construction ambitions.

In 2016 Mark Farmer CEO and Founding Director of Cast Consultancy gave stark warnings in his now acclaimed 'Modernise or Die' report, he has now turned his attention to developing a standardised definition of MMC. At Explore Offsite Housing Mark Farmer provided an update on the MHCLG MMC Working Group Activity. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is to agree a standardised definition of MMC with relevant terminologies and create a single independently-created hub for data collection.

Mark also presented a Warranty Assessment Protocol (WAP) and a 10-point MMC checklist on unified assurance linking to mortgage and insurance products. Amongst the quality-control requirements, the checklist stipulates that technical longevity assurance of end products must be clear, that a mainstream warranty is always required, that a UK single, unified assurance platform is desired, that better definitions of MMC need to be adopted, that product and process assurance should be better linked to people via skills and competency certification and that better education and awareness of the latest technologies are needed.

Collaboration, Confidence and Consumers - Overcoming the Challenges to Greater Adoption of MMC was the topic for the Deputy Chairman of the Home Building Federation (HBF). Peter Andrew MBE explained the impact that offsite approaches have had on the housing industry by tracking the progress that they have made, increasing housing supply by 78% in five years. Peter discussed the role of HBF as the representative body of the home building industry in England and Wales. Sustainability and Innovation Coordinator Jack Brayshaw of multiaward-winning Barratt Developments presented MMC: The Journey so Far describing how Barratt Developments use factory manufactured systems to rapidly deliver high-quality houses.

These systems include panelised masonry build and offsite components, offsite panelised roofing solutions and offsite modular garage systems. Barratt Developments are also considering a range of further offsite systems to enrich their build processes. Jack discussed how Barratt Developments use Application Industrialised Methods to Construct Homes (AIMCH) to deliver high-quality MMC. They measure the success of MMC systems using third-party research and internal data gathering that includes a quarterly review of the site build programme and a review of site KPIs.

Darren Richards, Managing Director of offsite experts Cogent Consulting and Chair of Explore Offsite Housing said: "The event was very well received - both in the room and across social media channels. The conference and exhibition provided fantastic insight for members of the construction industry to tap into the huge opportunities on offer across the offsite construction sector.

The event format provided a dynamic and interactive learning experience for all delegates." To keep up to date with the Explore Offsite series of conferences and exhibition go to www.exploreoffsite.co.uk

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