Mary Bennell, director of SWPA, explores the challenges of implementing modern construction methods (MCM) in the social housing sector and tells us how we can overcome these blockages
There has been great progress in delivering homes using MMC in the South West over the past two years and many organizations now have clear plans to deliver significant numbers of homes using MMC in their future programs.
At the recent Constructing Excellence South West Construction Summit, I presented a heatmap showing which issues have been resolved, which ones we are working on, and which ones we need to work on more. Participants were asked to suggest if there were any other issues that needed to be addressed, from these two more were added.
There are too many subjects to tackle individually, so many that it would become a book and not a blog! Some important ones to highlight are:
- Two issues that are definitely in the “resolved” section are customer advocacy and appetite for MMC. For example, Magna Housing, a longtime advocate of its first MMC approach, was a pioneer for many years promoting the concept of demand aggregation to form large order pipelines. They were joined by Wiltshire Council in this mission.
Cornwall Council has also embraced MMC delivering two large housing projects using panel systems, and now providing housing for the homeless using modular solutions.
Bristol Housing Festival’s primary aim is to promote MMC solutions to meet Bristol’s urgent housing needs, becoming a disruptor and catalyst for the council and surrounding authorities to deliver high quality, affordable off-site solutions.
There are others who all work with vendors to deliver offsite, and what’s most remarkable is that all of them are willing to share their knowledge and expertise with each other, embracing the momentum of collaboration needed to expedite delivery across the room.
- One problem that is being addressed is the standardization of design, either by using the designs and products produced by an off-the-shelf manufacturer, or by grouping customers together to produce standardized designs which may have different external treatments depending on the planning requirements – Ilke and CCG houses in Scotland have a standard range of house types, as do many others.
Clients accept that having their own individual designs for an individual project drawn up for them is not the best use of time and resources and would only be a reinvention of the wheel rather than relying on previous activities and expertise.
An issue in the to-be-solved section of the heat map is that of substructure and earthworks. A rapidly growing problem is not having a solution designed for support structures for MMC, but rather relying on the old traditional method of strip foundations and ground slabs. This increases the mass and cost of concrete in its original form, with cost implications and increased embodied carbon. Efforts to seek innovative and renewable solutions such as screw piles and slab foundations should be accelerated, and experience and research from the non-domestic sector should be used.
Three initiatives in the Southwest to provide MMC offsite homes cover many of the issues shown in the heatmap.
- Aggregate demand / pipeline
- Security and quality
- Development of common performance measures
- Energy quality standards
Building Better, an initiative launched by the National Housing Federation in 2018, comprises a core of 29 housing associations across England, including a significant number in the South West. They went to market and developed a framework with 3 vendors – one for housing and apartments, one for housing only and one for apartments using a range of standardized designs and components with some design flexibility. This solution offers the customer the advantages of a quick route to delivery through a direct call.
The cluster – as simple as 1,2,3
- Aggregate demand / pipeline
- Experienced customers
- Proof of concept
- Build to store potential
- Security and quality via NHBC Accepts
- Standardized designs and specifications developed with resident consultation
- Strong suppliers form an established framework
This initiative led by Magna Housing and Wiltshire Council is to develop 996 homes in Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire using the South West Procurement Alliance’s Offsite New Homes (NH2) framework.
A portfolio of house and apartment types has been developed in consultation with residents, they can be configured in many different visual effects and arrangements to suit all requirements. One of the most innovative aspects of this program is that it is possible to build the modules in stock, separating the manufacturing process from the planning deadlines. For example, if planning permission is delayed at a specific site, modules can be stored without their finishes external to the manufacturing plant and can be used for other projects if another requirement becomes available. This can expand to different customers using the stock as their sites become available.
The mini-competition for this project is currently underway and other customers will have the opportunity to join the cluster by awarding directly to the successful manufacturer.
DPS Low Carbon Offsite Housing Construction
- Outcome-based procurement – customers capture key requirements
- Choice against a list of potential requirements
- Access to a flexible supplier base
- Ability to take advantage of new initiatives
- Provide knowledge on a broader supplier base
The DPS combines a dynamic purchasing system with an options search tool, from CMM, to provide customers with a way to navigate and access a wide range of potential vendors and systems with the assurance that the quality and ability to meet customer requirements have been rigorously tested. and observed.
A key benefit here is that customers will have access to a wider supply base than in a traditional setting and will be able to appoint a specific supplier for accreditation themselves.
Suppliers are assessed and accredited using the standard government procurement prequalification process, then enter detailed quality and performance data across multiple categories, including a focus on energy performance into the CMM toolkit.
Customers can then define the results of their project and enter them into the tool, and through a matching process, a list of suppliers able to meet the requirement is produced.
Vendor selection can then be done through a mini-tendering process to ensure that the system and vendor that best matches the customer’s requirements wins the job.
There are other pockets of excellence in the South West that aren’t recognized here, but looking at the heat map, what’s really positive is the number of problems for which solutions are being developed individually and in collaboration with others.
It will be interesting to revisit the heatmap in future years to see where the individual elements have moved.