The research is being carried out by the MMC Research Commission, a team led by Atkins and its subsidiary Faithful & Gould
Research into the benefits and challenges of using modern methods of construction in the housing sector could help the wider construction industry gain greater insight.
Five years after Mark Farmer’s industry review told the UK construction sector to “modernise or die”, Homes England-funded research is very much aimed at making sure the housing sector chooses to modernise.
Homes England is the agency charged with the task of supporting developers to deliver on government’s aims around new homes.
The research is being carried out by the MMC Research Commission, a team led by Atkins and its subsidiary Faithful & Gould. It is one year into a six year study that is analysing the benefits and challenges to the housing market presented by modern methods of construction (MMC) such as modular units manufactured offsite.
Nonetheless, scheduled annual reports mean that housebuilders will not have to wait a full five years to take advantage of the work, while the metrics being studied could give insights into the use of MMC in the wider construction sector.
The government has set the housebuilding sector the target of completing 300,000 new homes a year and Homes England MMC advisor Paul McGivern sees MMC as being the key to delivering on that commitment. Data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government shows that 243,770 new homes were built in 2019/20 – the highest number since 1987, which illustrates the challenge of reaching 300,000 a year.
MMC is really seen as a way to help the industry improve its productivity, address skills shortages and look at the challenges it faces around sustainability, design quality and building performance, explains McGivern.
The important role of MMC in house building was also highlighted by a House of Commons select committee for communities and local government report in July 2019. This was one of the drivers for the launch of the Homes England research project when it got underway in May last year.
The aim of the research is to provide a body of evidence that drives greater understanding of MMC in the house building sector. It is hoped this will enable better informed decisions to be made about the use of MMC so that the sector can deliver better homes and more quickly.
With more than 1,800 homes being analysed, McGivern believes that this is the largest research programme of its kind in the UK – and possibly in Europe. Over the six year study, the research team will collect and analyse data from 1,887 homes which are being built at eight sites in England.
McGivern adds: The sites give us a good geographical spread, as well as a good spread of technology. We didn’t want everything to be volumetric modular [large building elements that can be linked together – we wanted to include some basic panelised timber frame systems, as well as more advanced panelised systems and pods too.
McGivern says that the oven-readiness of the developments was important as well. We didn’t want to choose sites that were too spread out in terms of start date, he says.
Faithful & Gould UK head of public sector Terry Stocks says that one of the most surprising elements of the work so far is how receptive the developers have been to the project despite some of the data being requested by the team not being information that is routinely collected on site. The project team has spent time working with developers to explain what is being done and why, to help ensure there is consistency in the data collected across the project.
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