On the back of our last blog , we asked whether introducing a buildings standard for modern methods of construction (MMC) should be supported by the industry. We received a resounding yes! It is believed that introducing a universal standard against which compliance of MMC builds can be measured will improve efficiency and consumer confidence.
Why change is needed
Evidence is available  that demonstrates that embracing modern methods of construction, such as off-site manufacturing, can reduce waste and improve the health and safety of workers involved in the build process. It can also ease the labour burden and improve quality control, in addition to reducing pollution on site and enabling construction firms to better adhere to the time and cost parameters that are set by their clients.
This raft of benefits is being amply demonstrated on a daily basis by a number of key players in the construction industry, across a range of sectors from housebuilding to public infrastructure. However, some in the industry have struggled to achieve or maintain a profitable position.
Recently, the collapse of Legal & General and Urban Splash's modular units has brought this situation into the public eye and now the focus is turning to the need for standardisation to be introduced in order to level the playing field and allow small and medium sized enterprises to compete against more established organisations when bidding for MMC contracts.
Plans already in progress
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has been tasked with examining ways in which MMC can become more accessible. A project entitled "Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) Standardisation Research and Kit of Parts" has been launched. One of the proposed outcomes is the introduction of a sector-wide standard which will encourage innovation, collaboration and adoption of modern building techniques.
The DLUHC aims to remove supplier-specific limitations in order to open up the supply chain, offer greater choice to housebuilders. It aims to implement standards against which constructions can be assessed for compliance, safety and quality. It is believed that the introduction of appropriate forms of standardisation in the MMC sector will improve its potential for wider deployment.
An initial proposal which could deliver significant benefits is the plan to introduce a standardisation platform which will represent the entirety of the MMC sector. This would place the industry under the same spotlight as more traditional construction companies, with a need to demonstrate compliance against defined standards in order to satisfy building regulations.
This would increase consumer confidence and thus fuel the progression of MMC techniques and allow them to achieve greater market penetration, supporting the government in achieving its Net Zero by 2050 targets and creating the homes that are desperately needed to satisfy public demand.
The DLUHC is hoping that a standardised platform will be available from March 2024, although how it will be accessed and its use mandated is yet to be determined.
Learning from the successes of others
As we have discussed many times over recent months, the MMC movement appears to be gathering pace, with many major infrastructure and construction projects underway using offsite-build and modular forms of construction.
This includes Barratt Homes launching a new MMC factory in Derby, and TopHat securing sufficient investment to open a new modular manufacturing facility in Northampton. Confidence among these businesses appears to be at an all-time high, so it is essential that proposals for standardisation take into account lessons learnt from these successful businesses.
Collaborating and sharing knowledge, will enable progress to be made in a far more coherent fashion, opportunities exploited for wider benefit and public confidence upheld. Standardising the processes by which MMC buildings are measured will improve efficiency and quality while reducing costs and risk.
What could go wrong?
Some critics have proposed that standardisation could reduce opportunities for innovation and limit the use of new technology, which could otherwise be beneficial in improving quality, costs and safety. Others believe that standardisation could, in fact, work against small businesses who may struggle to comply with a defined set of standards.
Ultimately, the success of the proposals implemented by the DLUHC will depend on the extent to which the industry engages and contributes this year. Waiting for an outcome to be presented and then complaining that it does not satisfy the status quo will not present the industry in a positive light, so early engagement and collective input from a wide range of stakeholders will be essential to deliver a manageable and effective outcome.