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In a letter to the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the House of Lords committee chair has challenged the government to prove that MMC has a future in UK housebuilding. At present, widespread failures are affecting the perception that MMC is a viable option for large scale house building, and this presents a risk to all those in the industry who firmly believe that MMC is not only a viable, but a better, way of building homes, now and in the future.  

Systematic failures  

The current Conservative government pledged to build 300,000 new homes a year during its term in office, but has yet to achieve this. Further, its target under the Affordable Homes Programme was for 25% of the properties delivered under this scheme to be built using MMC techniques, and again, this target has yet to be achieved.  

The investigation by the House of Lords was brought about following the high profile insolvency of three of the major MMC companies involved in the delivery of these projects, and several key areas for improvement have been identified. In order to restore confidence in the viability of MMC and progress ambitions delivery plans, it is essential that the government puts in place measures to address these failings at the earliest opportunity.  

 

Areas for improvement  

 

1. Clarity is required over the cost-effectiveness of MMC.

The government failed to present conclusive evidence to the inquiry that MMC building techniques are more cost effective than traditional bricks and mortar builds, so to ensure that value for money is achieved, it is essential that fact-checking is conducted, quotes sought from a number of competing MMC firms and evidence compiled in such a manner that the balance of investment can be justified.  

 

2. A coherent strategy is required.  

The government has not developed a clear strategy which details how and when its targets will be achieved. This is a clear failure and must be rectified. It is necessary for the MMC Taskforce to develop a clear understanding of the way in which MMC operates, its benefits, costs and challenges and then to put in place a coherent and actionable strategy which will detail how the technique will be deployed and when results will be visible.  

 

3. Measurable objectives are required.  

SMART objectives are required against which progress can be judged. It is essential that success criteria are identified and that metrics are developed to track progress, identify areas of weakness and to put in place effective resolutions. The government needs to be transparent on this issue and compile and publish all of the data relating to their MMC building programme to date.  

 

4. MMC Taskforce to be re-established.

The government was required to establish an MMC Taskforce and was allocated a £10M budget in order to progress its MMC plans, but this taskforce has never met. The government must justify why this taskforce was abandoned, account for its budget and either restore and prioritise the taskforce or identify an alternative method by which the data and standards relating to the use of MMC in government building projects are to be governed.  

 

5. Barriers to implementation to be investigated and eliminated.

Warranty providers and insurance companies are said to be highly risk averse and unwilling to accept compliance with building regulations as sufficient to warrant or insure the homes built using MMC techniques. This reticence translates into poor buyer uptake, which threatens the economic viability of these homes and can further reduce progress. The government must investigate the concerns of insurance companies and warranty providers and work with them to identify a workable solution which will reduce timescales and improve uptake among construction professionals and homeowners.  

 

6. Learning from experience is required.  

MMC is very successfully employed overseas, and the UK government should investigate the reasons why foreign governments have been able to use the technology so efficiently, learn lessons from them and implement those back in the UK.  

 

7. Workforce needs reinvigorating.  

The construction workforce is ageing and there remains a critical shortage of new entrants. More must be done to partner with educational institutions to promote construction as a viable career option, highlighting the exciting developments that the industry is facing and the way in which it is contributing to sustainability and climate change goals to attract the modern entrant.  

 

8. Work to be aligned to energy efficiency targets.  

There are clear environmental benefits to the use of MMC techniques in wide scale construction projects, and emphasising these benefits may be crucial in improving uptake. MMC properties have a reduced environmental impact during the build phase, create less pollution, reduced waste and are built to stringent quality standards. They are typically more energy efficient than their bricks and mortar counterparts and can contribute to reduced energy bills for occupants.   In conclusion, there are many areas in which the government has taken its foot off the pedal regarding its MMC projects but with renewed focus, it will be possible to demonstrate the benefits of MMC and restore efficiency in this area.

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