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The Major Issues Holding Back Offsite Construction in the UK

Every significant review of the UK construction industry has recommended greater adoption of offsite construction. Latham suggested the type of partnership essential for offsite innovation as far back as 1994. Then Egan and later Farmer recommended a capital investment into research and development and Sebastian James described the potential efficiencies represented by offsite construction in the UK, but the transformation has yet to materialise.

At present, less than 5% of all UK new builds utilise offsite methods. There appear to be two major barriers to its more widespread use.

Perception

The majority of those commissioning new buildings are in the baby-boomer generation. They have negative memories of temporary classroom buildings and need to understand the difference between these structures and offsite construction in the UK. Permanent offsite construction can produce buildings designed and manufactured to the most exacting specification. A building manufactured in a clean and dry factory setting can arguably be better quality than one constructed in a muddy, wet field.

Capacity

The second challenge is in the offsite sector’s capacity. Modular builders are smaller players in the construction industry and in general major contractors have not widely adopted an off-site construction in the UK. The lack of investment in the process conveniently reaffirms the model of the traditional contractor.

At the moment, the UK construction industry is approaching a crisis point that will compel change whether it is ready or not. There is a growing population of young people who need homes and schools, in addition to an ageing industry workforce and absence of traditional skills that Brexit may only make worse. It will be difficult for traditional construction in the UK to keep pace: the Harold and McKinsey Global Project Database suggests that only 69% of buildings are being constructed on time and only 40% do not exceed their budgets.

Structural Defects Insurance

To effect change, a lot must be done. For instance:

  • Major contractors must invest more in either their own manufacturing capability or partnerships with modular buildings to deliver more offsite construction in the UK.
  • The government needs to invest in infrastructure, training, and skills as well as direct more public spending into offsite construction.
  • The industry needs to educate the public and improve the general perception of offsite construction.
  • Designers and architects must be open to new technologies and embrace the possibilities inherent in offsite construction instead of turn away from it.

A close collaboration between manufacturers, contractors, designers, and clients will go a long way towards confirming practical logistics for off-site construction in the UK. Research partnerships between major contractors and experienced designers are essential to delivering the transformation and innovation that the industry needs now.

The effect of Building Information Modelling, or BIM, should not be underestimated. It can help the planning and design of offsite construction projects by allowing manufacturing design decisions to be made earlier than in the traditional process. This capability could tip the scales in favour of offsite construction and enable it to fulfil its obvious potential.

Specialists in Construction Insurance

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