New London Architecture

MMC: innovation in housing delivery

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Stephen Workman

Associate Director
Atkins

In 2017, the UK Government committed to achieving 300,00 homes per year by 2025 to address the severe housing shortage, but this target is yet to be met with housing delivery peaking at 240,000 homes pre COVID. Of this 240,000, between 160,000 and 175,000 where new build, with the remaining coming from conversions and refurbs. Moreover, some commentators are now suggesting 340,000 new homes per year will be required to address the backlog and meet growing demands.

For many years, Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) has been considered critical to addressing the housing shortage, with the potential to significantly increase productivity while alleviating increasing skills shortages and persistent quality issues. While there have been an increasing number of policy and fiscal incentives for their adoption in the public sector are we seeing an increase in the number of homes being delivered using MMC? 

In 2019, a collaboration involving Atkins, F&G, UCL, BRE and MTC were commissioned by Homes England to conduct a six-year research piece to collect new knowledge across all stakeholders in the supply chain on 8 sites, to expose the fundamental issues that may prevent MMC systems being used to inform better practices across the full life cycle of each development. This study aims to build robust datasets across broad metrics, providing certainty for the housing industry, and engaging stakeholders at all levels to develop a benchmarking approach to compare MMC systems. 

On 8th July, the New London Architecture (NLA) brought together key voices from across the industry to provide an update on advancements in MMC in the last year that is helping to deliver the housing London needs. 

The discussion was centred around the technical implications of changing standards /regulations that have recently come into force but are also planned over the coming years, the benefits that standardisation between MMC solutions would bring in terms of design and delivery, advocating that MMC was introduced on sites where it is appropriate to avoid negative experiences and unrealistic expectations, the perceived inflexibility of MMC solutions to cater for bespoke conditions and the balance of a higher cost but quicker delivery. In regard to this first point, the view was that many MMC solutions are better placed as they already perform to these increased standards whilst the traditional housing builders will see an increase in their build cost to uplift performance to these same standards. 

That being said, with standards tightening, particularly in relation to Part B, L and O, the feedback was that the requirement for testing of materials, products and systems in combination to reflect the proposed condition will require MMC suppliers to take a greater level of input, research, development, responsibility and liability when needing to illustrate compliance. This is more straight forward for volumetric or whole house products however were components and panels are used in combination with more traditional elements, this will require a greater level of collaboration between all parties. 

Recent innovations such as the introduction of the platform rule book which was launched in May, may be one solution. By identifying where the greatest benefits will be realised through repetition and standardisation and developing those through a number of suppliers, it will result in a collective supply chain that can deliver the growing demand and therefore result in greater levels of research and innovation. It will also promote a more joined up approach to the circular economy and life cycle of a product. 

Ultimately, MMC is a complex and multi-faceted sector and our whole industry would benefit from it’s proponents shouting louder about its advantages, key components but also creating a set of primary rules. Although perhaps the largest hurdle is procurement. How do the commercial teams within many organisations, whether it is private developers, local authorities or housing associations prove best value and compare apples and with apples? Hopefully the Homes England research piece will help unlock this hurdle alongside a greater level of understanding of the sector, leading to more homes being delivered using MMC.


Stephen Workman

Associate Director
Atkins


Technical

#NLATechnical


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