Use MMC or miss 300,000 homes-a-year target, say MPs

Influential committee of Parliamentarians urges ministers to grasp the modern methods of construction nettle.

The government is in danger of letting slip its target of 300,000 homes being built annually by the middle of the next decade due to an “over-reliance” on traditional construction techniques, a group of influential MPs has warned.

A report written by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, headed by Labour MP Clive Betts, has warned ministers they will have to act quickly if they are to increase capacity and improve investor confidence and not to miss out on the potential that modern methods of construction (MMC) offer.

Following months of hearings into MMC the committee has urged the government to unlock the technology’s potential in order to build homes more quickly, more cheaply, while maintaining build quality.

In its report, published today, the committee said the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) should specifically track how much of its total spending on housing goes towards MMC developments and put in place a coordinated strategy with other government departments that oversee schemes such as construction skills and research and development to increase MMC housing output.

Crucially the government should monitor how many homes are built using MMC annually to evaluate the impact of this strategy, the MPs’ report said, while local authorities should be encouraged to build more homes using new technologies.

Government should also boost training in MMC and set out a clear plan for the review of the building regulations, including the whole suite of Approved Documents, and consider how they relate to MMC buildings.

Clive Betts, the chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said the government had to make a serious effort to support the use of new and emerging technologies that had the potential to transform the speed, cost and quality of domestic house building.

“This is not simply about shifting production away from the building site and into factories. It is about seizing opportunities that modern technologies allow, whether it be precision manufacturing, use of new materials or digital working.”

Creating the conditions to improve investor and consumer confidence and proving quality and longevity in homes built using MMC would be key, he added. “That is why we have called on the government to collect and publish the data that prove new building methods work, and also show if they have failed.”

 Ministers needed to ensure that the right training schemes and apprenticeships were in place so that MMC techniques could be properly exploited, Betts added. “They must also work with the industry to support the development of robust supply chains and support innovative businesses develop.

“The housing system is in urgent need of a major boost and if the government is to have any chance of meeting its ambitious target it must grasp every opportunity new technologies allow. But they must act fast and act now,” Betts said.

 Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman, welcomed the recognition of what he called “the pivotal role councils can play in tackling the country’s housing crisis and the need to get councils building again if we are to stand any chance of meeting the government’s housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes a year.

 “The last time this country built homes at the scale that we need now was in the 1970s when councils built more than 40% of them. Councils were trusted to get on and build homes that their communities needed, and they delivered, and they can do so again.”

Tett said lifting the housing borrowing cap was a big step forward, “but we now need the government to go further in the Spending Review by devolving Right to Buy so councils retain 100% of their receipts and can set discounts locally”.

HCLG Committee report’s main conclusions and recommendations:

The Ministry should report annually the total amount allocated to MMC developments across all its different funding streams and implement a coordinated strategy across all relevant government departments to increase MMC homebuilding.

The Ministry should track how much of its total spending on housing goes towards MMC developments specifically. It should also implement a coordinated strategy with other government departments that oversee schemes such as construction skills provision and research and development (R&D), to increase MMC housing output. It should monitor how many homes are built using MMC annually, in order to evaluate the impact of this strategy.

Homebuilders should use more digital technology in their processes and not simply move construction off-site. 

There is some disagreement about which methods should come under the banner of MMC but to take advantage of the predicted benefits, such as improved quality, homebuilders must use more digital technology.

Improving confidence in MMC

The lack of long-term data on the durability of MMC homes in the UK is a considerable barrier to industry actors engaging with MMC housing schemes.

Financial service providers, including insurers, mortgage lenders and valuers need to have certainty that MMC homes are safe and durable if they are to engage with them.

The government should develop a digital database that records the design, processes and materials used in the construction.

Digital technology makes it possible to create a database that would store and track data about built environment. It should record the materials and processes used in the construction of homes. It could also track repairs and alterations in larger housing developments and make this information available to relevant stakeholders, including insurers and fire services. of buildings.

We welcome the proposal for an “MMC Scheme” that will set out a single set of standards for warranty providers against which to make decisions.

Currently, warranty providers set their own standards against which to assess homes. The “MMC Scheme” which is being developed by the MCHLG Joint Industry Working Group will provide financial service providers with more certainty about the quality of MMC homes.

Supporting growth of MMC

The government must ensure skills programmes, apprenticeship schemes and the new T Level give learners the skills they need for both traditional techniques and MMC and encourages more young people into the sector.

The shortage of workers with relevant skills is one of the main constraints to increasing homebuilding in the UK. It is vital the government increases skills provision and turns homebuilding into an appealing career choice for young people.

There is a lack of robust supply chains for MMC homes.

Supply chains for MMC homes are underdeveloped in the UK. The government should help to aggregate demand for MMC products to provide certainty and allow businesses in the supply chain to invest in factories to produce relevant components and machinery.

Building homes and accessing land

Local authorities need to start building homes in far greater numbers than they have done in recent years.

 In the past, local authorities have been major homebuilders and have contributed significantly to the total number of homes delivered. If we are to get close to delivering 300,000 homes per year, local authorities must supply a significant proportion of them. Social housing is particularly well suited to MMC because it often includes large numbers of similar homes which reduces unit costs and provides certainty of demand to the supply chain.

Helping homebuilders to access land for development is key if we are to increase rates of homebuilding.

Homebuilders cite the lack of access to land as a constraint to increasing housing supply. It is even harder to access privately owned land for MMC developments than traditional developments. The government should help MMC homebuilders to access land that it controls so they can increase their overall delivery of homes and shore-up demand for the supply chain.

Removing regulatory barriers

The government should urgently set out a clear plan for the review of the building regulations, including the whole suite of Approved Documents, and consider how they relate to MMC buildings.

The current system of building regulations is confusing, and homebuilders told us it is difficult to apply the guidance to MMC buildings. We welcome the government’s review of Approved Documents in light of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, led by Dame Judith Hackitt but the review should go further and consider specific guidance for homes manufactured off-site.

The building regulations should set more stringent energy performance targets for homes to take into account achievable levels of energy efficiency.

At present, many new homes do not achieve the high levels of energy efficiency possible with MMC. The government has set a target to eradicate the UK’s net contribution to climate change by 2050 and the built environment has a major role to play in achieving that target. The government should strengthen energy performance targets to reflect this.

If current schemes are insufficient to provide the finance needed to increase MMC output, new schemes aimed at MMC developments should be considered.

MMC homebuilders require capital upfront to pay for factories and assembly lines. This presents the biggest barrier to SME homebuilders that do not have reserves to draw on to invest in MMC. Private investors are cautious about investing in innovative methods of construction, so the government should ensure it is enabling homebuilders to access the finance they need for MMC.

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