Has Covid-19 been a catalyst for modular?

Lockdown and all the subsequent restrictions have seen greater emphasis placed on the utilisation of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). Wayne Oakes, director at engineering consultancy firm Dice, looks at how this is breaking the stigma that still persists.

The benefits of modular construction are no secret – increased safety on site, schedule certainty, less material waste, and fewer delays. But, despite many within the industry calling for greater use, the take-up of modular has remained slow, and only accounts for a very small percentage of housing delivery at the moment.

The proportion of new homes built using MMC is predicted to increase from the current 6-10 per cent to 20 per cent of the market share in the next few years, according to a recent report from Savills. However, in order to meet not only the UK’s housing delivery target but also the aim of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 – this has to increase.

As an industry, we’ve been talking about MMC for many years, but it still only accounts for a fairly small percentage of total housing delivery in this county, with traditional housebuilding by far the primary build method in the UK. But, the last few months have forced the wider industry to start thinking differently about how they can innovate, adapt and ultimately build more homes in the face of the restrictions we all face as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Breaking the stigma

The industry has been slow to accept MMC; it is largely misunderstood.

There is also a stigma around modular and a general reluctance to change as people are used to working in the traditional way – there is a perception that the product is low quality and has no integrity of design, but that simply isn’t the case now.

There is a real lack of knowledge within the sector about modular, and a reluctance to learn is stunting innovation and growth in the residential sector – and ultimately preventing us from building more homes more quickly.

Unlocking affordable housing schemes

The pandemic has started to change this, as developers and landowners are starting to consider how to move forwards. For instance, we have started to see local authorities look towards modular building as a way to unlock residential sites to deliver affordable housing.

One such project that we’re currently working on is with Bassetlaw District Council. The modular housing scheme is the first MMC project for the authority and will deliver 120 homes in Nottinghamshire.

Working closely with Faithful+Gould – the project/commercial manager and principal designer for the scheme – this project marks our tenth modular scheme. We are responsible for looking at the flood risk, drainage, transport, and structural design as well as providing specialist MMC advice.

Delivering high quality homes

It’s clear that more and more decision makers are waking up to the fact that modular housing is an incredibly viable option for a post pandemic recovery. But we still need to go further.

Schemes such as the one with Bassetlaw District Council help deliver modern, innovative and energy efficient housing schemes that improve neighbourhoods, support local jobs as well as the council’s ambition to increase the amount of housing.

However, we need it on a wider scale to really make a dent in the 300,000 new homes target set by the government. The scale of our work has definitely increased – from roughly 10 units on a development to almost 700 on our most recent scheme – so I just hope we continue to see action, rather than all the talk prevalent in pre-Covid times.