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.
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.
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.