With the UK government's new found enthusiasm for modern methods of construction (MMC), is now the time that modular finally makes an impact in our built environment?
We all know the benefits of modular - it's fast, high quality and more sustainable than traditional construction methods. But with competing systems preventing true economies of scale from taking off, is getting modular done still a pipe dream?
Back in November 2019, Homes England invested £30m to expand the production facilities of ilke Homes. The Yorkshire based modular builder is currently transforming a derelict site which should provide much needed local jobs in modular construction.
120 brand new homes will be built there as part of a £23m deal to provide affordable housing in Herefordshire. It's another step in the evolution from construction to full vertical integration as a property developer and it's a path being trodden by many modular construction businesses.
Commitment and investment are both being pumped into the sector, but there is also a sense of deja vu. Modular has been talked about as the future for decades and there's still a hangover from the post-war era that prefabs are poor quality. What makes today's commitment to MMC the new way forward?
There are three key drivers to the latest modular construction boom that suggest it might just stick. There seems to be a definite move from trying to influence the attitudes of traditional construction companies to a focus on the small scale disruptors who are shaking up the industry.
Homes England is beginning to take a far more interventionist stance and not only through investment. There's a real push to encourage the kind of vertical integration ilke Homes and others are currently pioneering, with offers of technical support and land.
Then there's the increased knowledge base, with established modular giants such as BoKlok finally bringing their methods and expertise to the UK.
This all adds up to some serious investment in the MMC space. Goldman Sachs invested £75m in modular startup TopHat, an investment repaid when BoKlok chose the company as their preferred partner as it expands its highly successful modular business into the UK with a string of proven low energy homes with Ikea fixtures and fittings.
With companies like Premier Modular, ESS, M-AR, Net Zero Buildings and Reds 10 pushing Residential product hard, there is an unprecedented momentum in the market.
A green 'new normal'?
But the biggest driver may be the one that no one could foresee. When the Covid-19 crisis hit and the UK finally locked down, modular construction was unaffected.
Huge facilities were able to keep working with social distancing and hygiene measures in place, securing jobs in modular construction and keeping projects on track. As construction moves into the new normal and traditional construction sites struggle to deal with new onsite guidelines, can offsite construction step into the breach?
There's plenty of pressure on Boris Johnson to secure a green future after lockdown, and modular buildings already have the edge when it comes to creating a smaller carbon footprint. Fewer site deliveries not only mean less pollution, but lower noise levels and less disruption for local residents. Factor in the A energy ratings that are becoming standard for modular homes and you have a powerful combination of reasons why modular's time has finally come.
So will the UK finally get modular done? With the 2030 zero-carbon target looming and the housing crisis showing no signs of going away, there has never been a better time to try.