Chronic undersupply of new affordable homes in the UK has long been an issue, and risks worsening during the current financial downturn. Paul Terry, Managing Director at Roofspace Solutions, argues that thanks to the introduction of new building technologies, we already have the answer for how to build low-cost quality homes.
As I travel the country visiting affordable housing providers and their developer partners, many of the conversations turn to the enormous pressure they are facing. Figures from the National Housing Federation and Crisis show we need to build 340,000 new homes per year until 2031 to combat the shortage of affordable housing . Yet earlier in the year, social housing starts were down by 17% and completions down by 4% .
You’d be forgiven for thinking the landscape is a little bleak. Yet as an advocate of modern methods of construction (MMC), I believe they can help alleviate some of the industry’s most pressing concerns and prove to be the key in increasing supply.
Many providers will have dabbled with new building technologies already, thanks to the introduction of the Affordable Housing Programme and the requirement that a quarter of new homes on the framework be delivered using MMC.
MMC simply refers to modular units that are typically assembled in factories using high-grade materials. The process itself is safer, heavily regulated, and immune to weather delays given its reliance on indoor construction. In Sweden, 45% of new builds already use MMC – compared to 10% in the UK .
But its beneficial impact on cost is undoubtedly why it’s increasingly being rolled out at building sites across the UK. At the time of writing, inflation is at a 40-year high, which has a knock-on impact on operating costs, borrowing and an increased cost of living pressures on tenants. The cost savings and certainty it can provide make it an appealing proposition for housing associations that are scrutinised for ROI on every penny.
With construction responsible for 39% of global emissions , it’s not an option to kick it down the road. MMC helps to reduce emissions during the construction phase, and by choosing materials that conserve energy you can reduce the environmental impact of a building throughout its lifetime.
These modular components can go a long way in making a building compliant with the Future Homes Standard – the government’s commitment to radically improve the energy performance of new homes from 2025. MMC homes are futureproofed with low-carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency, which translates to lower energy bills for tenants.
Despite huge strides to improve working practices, sadly construction still holds one of the worst health and safety records, with a fatal injury rate four times higher than the all-industry average. Compounding this issue is the ongoing skills shortage in the industry, with many tradespeople choosing not to return after the pandemic.
This is where off-site manufacturing has a clear role to play. The quality-controlled environment requires a skilled, highly trained and permanent workforce, helping contractors take many of their daily health and safety concerns away from the hazards of the construction site
The bottom line
In fact, we’re working alongside housing associations across the UK to develop off-site products and services that provide value for money, helping to create affordable homes for those who need them. Whether that’s delivering everything from the whole house and roof, or delivering a MMC solution which is plugged into a traditional build, there are options for all providers based on their specific objectives. Above all, the beginning-to-end managed process of using an MMC supplier can save housing associations time and energy, allowing them to focus on the thing that matters most – their residents.