House of Lords tells construction to get behind off-site manufacture

The construction sector must significantly change to meet the UK’s need for housing and infrastructure, according to the House of Lords.

With implications for producers and distributors of products and services for the construction sector, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee said off-site manufacture (OSM) can boost productivity, reduce labour demands, improve the quality and efficiency of buildings and reduce the environmental impacts associated with traditional construction.

OSM take up is limited because – the committee found – the sector is working with “outdated and unsustainable business models” that don’t support OSM for construction. The committee added that OSM requires collaboration between clients, designers and contractors from an early stage but much of the evidence it received “painted a picture of a construction sector that is fragmented and lacking in trust. These barriers must be addressed by the sector itself and strong leadership is needed from the Construction Leadership Council,” it added.

OSM will help UK construction with its famed skills shortage, but would require the development of new skills for manufacturing. OSM will require a combination of skills involving site implementation, digital and procurement and the committee said the government must ensure young people are equipped with the digital skills needed for modern methods of construction, including off-site manufacture.

There are clear and tangible benefits from off-site manufacture for construction which make a compelling case for its widespread use,” said Chairman of the Committee Lord Patel. “We heard evidence that OSM could increase productivity in the sector by up to 70%.

“The construction sector’s business models are no longer appropriate and are not supporting the UK’s urgent need for new homes and infrastructure. The construction sector needs to build more trust and create partnerships so that companies can work together to improve the uptake of off-site manufacture, and the Construction Leadership Council should provide the necessary leadership.

“The role of the Government and the wider public sector is pivotal in a move to greater use of off-site manufacture. The report sets out actions that the Committee thinks the Government should take including implementation of the Construction Sector Deal, committed execution of the ‘presumption in favour’ of off-site manufacture and a greater move to procuring for whole-life value rather than lowest cost.”

Government action

In many cases, OSM is suitable for the construction of important social infrastructure such as hospitals and houses. The Committee heard evidence that if the Government is to achieve its aim of building 300,000 houses a year by 2020, OSM would be the only way to meet this target, and that traditional construction methods do not have the capacity to build enough homes. The Government must set out what conditions it will attach to the extra financial support for housing to drive the uptake of off-site manufacture and other innovative technologies, the committee added.