Last month a government backed working group published a framework to define the different forms of innovative construction that can be used for residential development. The framework, which identifies seven categories of modern methods of construction (MMC), is key to helping clients, advisors, lenders, investors and others to understand non-traditional building technologies and speak a common language.
The move marks another step in developing understanding and application of MMC in UK housebuilding. As the government has indicated, MMC holds the promise of minimising waste, inefficiencies and delays, speeding up construction and reducing disruption. The government is promoting and supporting the transition from traditional build to MMC through its partnership with industry, known as the construction sector deal, and a range of initiatives and programmes being run by its delivery agency, Homes England, notably the local authority accelerated construction programme.
Shifting away from traditional construction to MMC in housebuilding inevitably presents challenges. A House of Commons select committee is currently interrogating the potential of MMC to boost housing supply, as well as looking at the challenges and the risks. It has pointed to challenges including inconsistent demand in the housing sector, and the need for support to give lenders, consumers and builders the confidence to use new methods.
A string of MMC projects is also helping to develop understanding and confidence in MMC. Among them is affordable housing provider Home Group’s Gateshead Innovation Village, a project that has its roots in the Great Exhibition of the North, which took place in Newcastle Gateshead last year.
The Gateshead Innovation Village is described as a live research project, and involves Home Group building MMC homes alongside traditional ones. The village is also a testbed for other innovations around energy efficient and smart technologies. The village concept was showcased to the public as part of last year’s Great Exhibition of the North in Newcastle Gateshead, with the village itself being developed on a site close to the exhbition’s Get North Innovation walking trail.
The village will have 35 MMC homes, constructed using a range of different approaches and materials, as well as six traditionally-built homes, which provide a comparison. The research project will explore not only the construction process but also the lived experience of the homes’ residents. "We want to know what they’re like to live in, how they compare and contrast with traditional builds and how they’ll stand the test of time," says Brian Ham, executive director of development at Home Group.
The MMC home technologies include:
- ilke Homes’ modular system, which has been used to construct the first six homes completed on the site
- Intelligent Steel’s light steel frame technology
- Xella’s lightweight concrete panelised system, which is being used for the first time in the UK for this project
- Simply Modular, a manufacturer using a hybrid timber frame and structural insulated panel system
- Premier Modular’s modular system.
Alongside this, the six traditional homes are being constructed, albeit at a slower pace than their MMC counterparts.
Home Group is also working with a range of partners to deliver the village, including Homes England, Gateshead Council, architect ID Partnership, property consultant Storm Tempest, cost consultant Elliott Associates, consulting engineer Fairhurst, energy specialist ENGIE, energy infrastructure specialist Extreme Low Energy, and innovation specialist Wondrwall.