‘Getting onside with offsite can spark UK manufacturing’ says Jeff Maxted, Director of technical consultancy at BLP Insurance.
With traditional elements of the British manufacturing sector exhibiting stark signs of decline, it’s time for the industry to adapt and further diversify, placing more emphasis on contemporary manufacturing activity, such as the burgeoning offsite construction market. As measured by the CIPS Purchasing Manager Index (PMI), the UK manufacturing sector has languished in recession for the past three out of the last four months.
Manufacturing output has contracted significantly owing to on-going uncertainties of international trade tensions, indicators of a decelerating global growth and of course, Brexit. Traditional manufacturing sectors, for example car production, continue to struggle. A more diverse, long-term manufacturing strategy is clearly needed that supports emerging technologies, and creates skilled, well-paid employment.
Owing to its controlled factory environment, the benefits of offsite construction over traditional methods are clear: greater accuracy, speed and precision, reliability of materials and manufacture, improved performance and a reduction in construction costs, as units can be delivered at scale and through repeatable design. The widespread implementation of offsite construction can help bolster the UK manufacturing industry, while positively contributing to the severe housing crisis plaguing Britain’s towns and cities.
With the benefits and potential positive impact readily apparent, what’s holding back progress? The construction industry can sometimes move at a glacial pace, with innovation and modernisation frustrated by short-term thinking and a reticence to invest in and implement new technologies. To help address this, the Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS) is instilling more confidence in the sector by providing long-term assurance to mortgage lenders, valuers, funders, landlords and homeowners that properties built using non-traditional forms of construction will be robust for at least 60 years. BOPAS has witnessed a 15% yearon-year rise in companies being accredited in 2018 and 2019 figures are showing further growth. There are very encouraging signs in the wider industry too with Sekisui House, a leading global housebuilder and pioneer in the modular housing space, moving into the UK market in partnership with Urban Splash.
Furthermore, construction of two towers, built using modules provided by a BOPAS-approved manufacturer and comprising over 500 flats, is on-going in Croydon, London. Emerging international players are beginning to enter the UK’s modular market, providing impetus to major housebuilders, who were initially slow to get on-board. However, a more holistic, co-ordinated and collaborative approach from the government and major stakeholders is needed to push offsite construction from pockets of promising activity into the mainstream. Upskilling workers in offsite methods, engaging Homes England to encourage local authorities to allocate a proportion of large-scale developments to be delivered via offsite, and pursuing strategies to attract foreign investment and expertise into the market would be a start.
If this can be achieved, the government can simultaneously provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the manufacturing industry and help alleviate the housing crisis.