According to a new policy paper, prefabs and other MMC built homes could soon enter the mainstream. Build Homes, Build Jobs, Build Innovation is a new report co-authored by Mark Farmer who was named champion of modern methods of construction (MMC) in housebuilding by the government in November 2019.
Farmer says the modular industry needs to shake off its cottage industry tag and embrace a critical role as a game changer when it comes to enabling innovators and offering more choice to renters and home buyers.
With a brief to increase the use of MMC in the construction sector and developing the northern Construction Corridor, Farmer also hopes to attract overseas investment into an industry that could be worth as much as £40bn when it matures.
The construction of an extra 75,000 homes by 2030 could be the tipping point for MMC. The paper also estimates that this would create 50,000 jobs while reducing carbon emissions by 40%, contributing to net-zero carbon targets.
Modernise or die
In 2016 Farmer authored Modernise or Die, which called for a major rethink of the construction industry to address the skills gap. The new report is co-authored with Mike De'Ath of architects HTA, who have been responsible for a number of high profile module developments including Greystar's George Street towers, the tallest modular building in Europe.
Create Streets founder Nicholas Boys Smith has written the introduction and is in a prime position to influence the government as co-chair of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission. The proposals are currently under consideration as part of the £11.5bn Affordable Housing Programme announced in the autumn spending review.
Described as a blueprint for a housing-led 'industrial revolution', the repost proposes a proactive role for Homes England so suppliers can scale up, confident of demand. Farmer points out that the industry is massively fragmented and needs industry-wide standards and interoperability to succeed. Homes England could create a national platform to link housing associations, councils and regional authorities with investors, manufacturers and suppliers.
Making demand visible
With an imminent downturn in the market predicted, Farmer says the strategy must make the market demand more visible while increasing real demand with the supply of affordable homes.
The report calls for a specific focus on the rental and discounted ownership sectors to deliver the required growth in uptake of MMC, while the government announced at the launch of the Affordable Homes Programme that at least 25% of all new builds should use modular or other non-traditional construction methods.
Rico Wojtulewicz, housing and planning policy head at the National Federation of Builders, urged the government to focus on all types of MMC, not only factory-based construction, because of the lack of standardisation. There's also some concern among lenders about recovering investments if a factory goes bankrupt.
The government proposes building 300,000 homes a year in England within the period to 2015. Fewer than 3,500 of the 241,000 homes built last year used MMC and off-site construction methods the paper said.