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How the UK construction industry can embrace MMC houses

At a time of material and skill shortages, a global shift towards sustainability and new notions around the ideal workplace, MMC stands out as a construction method that can adapt to new demands. But how can the UK fully embrace MMC homes? This was the question discussed at a recent roundtable chaired by Ian Atkinson of law firm Womble Bond Dickinson.

I spoke with industry experts to discuss the merits of MMC and how it can break into the UK construction market, including Joseph Worland, Managing Partner at Lloyds Banking Group; Stephen Wightman, Regional Director and Head of MMC UK at Faithful + Gould; Jessie Wilde, Deputy Project Director at Bristol Housing Festival; Edward Jezeph, Chief Investment Officer at Homes England; and Pablo Martinez Rodriguez, senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical and Construction Engineering at Northumbria University.

Is standardization the answer to support the growth of MMC houses in the UK?

According to Pablo Martinez Rodriguez of Northumbria University, MMC standardization can be a double-edged sword: “Standardization can help industry grow, but it can also suppress innovation.”

He stressed that what matters is who sets the standards. Jessie Wilde of Bristol Housing Festival agrees, saying standardization needs to be developed in partnership with supply chains.

For Faithful + Gould’s Stephen Wightman, we need to be clear about what we want from MMC in order to then determine whether it has succeeded or not: “Component standardization is not necessarily the answer. We need to standardize performance criteria that produce results for users. For example, sound attenuation between room spaces is much better in MMC than in traditional building types. If the performance standards made this type of sound attenuation part of the performance criteria, traditional builders would have to add content to increase building performance to close the gap with what has already been provided by MMC.

Wightman explained that MMC often outperforms traditional construction methods in terms of speed of delivery and quality of construction fabric. He continued: “Set performance standards and then the industry starts to innovate, much like the auto industry did when it was given emissions targets.”

Edward Jezeph of Homes England added: “We need confidence in the building technologies we use, but we can do this by consulting the warranties and insurance markets that already exist.

With low adoption of MMC homes in the UK compared to countries like Sweden and Japan, is the growth of the industry being hampered by a reluctance of insurers and lenders to provide finance?

Joseph Worland of Lloyds Banking explained that there are barriers for homeowners looking to secure mortgages on MMC homes due to limitations in existing collateral and insurance policies – but commercial loans for MMC projects are a another story.

Large homebuilders can easily access investments for MMC based on reputable management teams, access to capital and credit records. However, start-up plants without the historical performance of sustained delivery against a pipeline or established credit ratings may face challenges in obtaining financing.

Worland continued, “Top MMC operators have had access to institutional investments to bypass lenders and are now moving into a position where they are more mature.”

However, he added, there is “a lack of understanding around MMC, people think it’s a product and it’s not, it’s a process. Insurers are starting to understand that products are not unique. Supply chain redundancy has been a concern, but performance standards would make it easier for manufacturers to substitute.”

Wilde agreed that MMC is fundamentally misunderstood, stating, “The adoption of MMC would completely change the way local authorities or regional housing associations build new homes. Unfortunately, change is not something that people embrace quickly.

Wightman added that “speed of delivery is not important to traditional home builders – in fact there is an economic incentive not to flood the market. Whereas if an MMC factory is empty it is a nightmare They rely on productivity and continuous construction.

What role can MMC play in bringing about lasting change and improvements in equality, diversity and inclusion in the construction industry?

Current statistics show that only 13% of the construction workforce are women, compared to 20% in energy, mining and transport.

For Stephen Wightman, MMC offers significant opportunities to promote equality, diversity and inclusion.

He explained that site-based roles mean unpredictable workplaces, compared to the factory setting provided by an MMC production process – as well as more predictable work patterns, and pointed out that research has found factories 10 times safer than building on site.

He also pointed out that research has shown huge potential carbon emissions savings with MMC, with 70% fewer transport movements for off-site built modular homes. To illustrate that MMC was more sustainable than traditional construction methods, Pablo Martinez Rodriguez shared that an MMC house built in China and transported to New Zealand had a smaller environmental footprint than a house built in New Zealand by traditional way.

Looking at MMC through the lens of ESG (environmental, social and governance), Wilde explained, “From a local government perspective, looking at MMC in the light of the Social Value Act, it is not It’s not about the best cost but about the best value for money.

“For skeptics who think that modular construction puts comfort and aesthetics second to cost, their argument quickly falls away because it’s currently more expensive and takes a lot of effort.”

Jezeph explained that it’s easy for MMC homes to outperform traditional buildings on sustainability, saying: “We’re heading towards net zero in the UK, but we’re delivering shoddy homes that don’t are not suitable for use.

Everyone agrees that the baseline for the energy performance of homes currently being built in the UK is low. For Edward, it’s no surprise that an industry that hasn’t changed its way for several hundred years is also struggling to attract young talent.

Wightman concluded that the added benefits of MMC, such as predictability and freedom from disruption, would contribute to both environmental and social factors in the construction industry. He also reported that MMC homes offer the possibility of mass customization, giving buyers and users the ability to customize homes to suit their needs.

Find out more about MMC’s merits during Womble Bond Dickinson’s (WBD) re:build Britain campaign.

Ian Atkinson

MMC houses

Partner

Womble Bond Dickinson

Tel: +44 (0)345 415 0000

www.womblebonddickinson.com

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