Oct 26, 2016

Farmer review highlights key role for offsite construction

A major review of skills shortages in the construction sector has underlined the pressing need for industry to embrace the advantages offered by offsite construction if it is to meet the demand for new homes across the UK.

The publication last week of the Farmer Review of construction labour shortages provided a stark appraisal of the industry’s last chance at modernising before it becomes a story of missed opportunity.

The key recommendations of the "Modernise or Die" report, including industrialisation of construction and focusing on offsite manufacture, reflect a clear alignment of current industry demand, political intent and existing opportunity.

To be blunt, there were no great surprises in the report, but it was unflinching in its view that it’s now or never for the future of UK construction. The content has been covered in previous reviews of the sector and discussed often by industry. Industry as a whole now needs to take action to ensure we meet the current and future housing needs of the UK.

The difference with this review is that there is no avoiding what’s right in front of us. We’ve demonstrated the benefits of offsite construction, we know greater adoption of timber can address the ongoing shortages of bricklayers and block materials, and the political and industrial narrative is now converging around greater automation, industrialisation, offsite and scalability.

Skills shortages have been a never-ending story in the construction industry in recent years. Moving towards a more industrialised vision is a robust way to meet demand while overcoming the challenges which currently stand between the construction sector today and where it needs to go in the future.

Stewart Milne Group is involved in most areas of the housebuilding supply chain, from land, development, offsite construction, using timber systems for construction, through to sales and aftercare. We’re acutely aware of the need for a holistic way to design and build new homes, built on 40 years of offsite learning and use in our business.

Offsite construction offers a clear route forward for the industry. It is a modern, energy efficient and cost effective way of building everything from homes to hospitals and office buildings. It offers increased output and performance standards with reduced onsite costs and less reliance on variables such as good weather to complete a building project on time and within budget.

We are currently applying our experience in an exciting project looking at the future of industrialisation in the new homes industry. We are leading the Innovate UK-funded Advanced Industrialised Methods for Construction of Homes (AIMCH) feasibility project, which is modelling through simulation of current data and thinking, the cost, time and external variables of different construction techniques. As well as Stewart Milne Group, partners in the AIMCH project include BRE, Barratt Developments and Crest Nicholson.

The outputs of the feasibility project, to be demonstrated later this year, are intended to be taken into a much larger, real-world research and development project commencing in 2017 to identify, develop and trial the industrialised offsite solutions needed to meet modern housebuilding demands.

In the meantime, perhaps the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will provide greater insight into the Government’s plans to meet the housebuilding challenge.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Timber Research and Development Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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