Speaking at a Built Environment Lords Select Committee on modern methods of construction (MMC), Carl Leaver, Chairman of TopHat said that there is ‘zero chance of hitting the 300,000 homes target without modular’. Listening to his reasoning, you would have been convinced he’s right. But modular housing, like all development, has a challenge to overcome to achieve that – the planning system.
Modular homes have a particular challenge within the system as they are perceived by many decision makers to be of ‘lesser quality’ than traditional-built homes. Modular homes also are also subject to a more stringent set of building regulations, including with fire safety.
An already constrained system struggles to understand homes being built in this way, and therefore the immediate reaction is one of trepidation, followed by additional legislation.
A key point made by Mr Leaver in the evidence session is that whilst MMC is quicker to build, the upfront cost of building factories and equipment is high and so volume of delivery is key i.e. the more houses built by MMC, the lower cost in the future.
However, as those of us who work in the built environment sector know, the planning system has failed in dealing with large schemes in terms of planning policy, design guides, and statutory consultee responses in a timely manner. Imagine a scheme of let’s say 1,500 new homes built entirely of MMC. The authority, which is likely to be understaffed, would be overwhelmed with the barriers that this scheme would have to go through.
The solution is not a matter of jumping through hurdles, it’s a matter of engagement. Engaging with officers and councillors to explain how MMC works, what are the differences between MMC and traditional methods of construction, and how it is an efficient way to a) build more homes and b) create jobs in MMC factories.
It’s safe to say that the jury is still out on modular homes. On the face of it, MMC looks to be a good way to build quality homes quickly, but it appears to be that both local and national government have some hesitancy towards it. There is an urgent need to provide new homes, but delivery relies significantly on local and national government ‘buying in’ to MMC. One of the ways which this hurdle could be overcome is the industry banding together to try and persuade government that investment in MMC is the way forward to deliver new homes. A public campaign based on building support for new investment in MMC factories, delivering new jobs, and ultimately, delivering new homes quicker of the same quality as traditionally built homes.
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