26th June Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

This week I attended The Charted Institute of Housing’s (CIH) annual conference in Manchester – a must-attend event for anyone working in housing or related industries.

One of the main presentations was a discussion all about offsite construction, a big talking point in our industry at the minute. Speakers featured housing heavy-weights discussing the realities of offsite construction, the benefits that can be reaped from it and what has stopped it working in the past.

For those of you that don’t know, offsite construction is a modern way of building that sees the unit being constructed offsite in a factory-controlled environment. The building is then delivered to the site where the ground works and foundations will have been prepared.

It’s a method of construction now widely used in the housing and education sector and it’s something that could be just what we’re looking for when it comes to how we ease the housing crisis in the UK. It’s no secret that we are currently suffering from a shortage of new homes. With only 63 per cent of on-site built projects being delivered on time, the need for new methods and solutions has never been higher. Off-site construction allows for the building frame to be built simultaneously to the foundations, meaning projects can be delivered in up to half the time of traditional construction- a huge selling point.

Off-site construction has many benefits compared to traditional build; it is safer, more efficient and has the potential to greatly minimise on-site waste. This method also makes it possible to optimise construction material purchases and usage. With many offsite projects all happening under the same roof, it also means it’s easier to take inventory of leftover materials and use them on other projects, as opposed to other methods where surplus would be dumped in the recycle bin. This is a much better way of preventing waste and reducing unnecessary costs. Research has shown that off-site construction generates up to 90 per cent less waste than site-based building methods.

Working in a controlled factory environment means there is also less exposure to risks and less time spent on the construction site, resulting in much improved safety. With time and safety being reduced, it puts less pressure on contractors meaning they aren’t reliant on temporary labour. So really, it’s a win, win situation all round!

In the affordable homes sector, charity and industry bodies are calling for the Government to increase house building to address the housing shortage. Pre-fabricated homes helped solve the crisis in the 40s and 50s, and technology in particular has advanced in huge ways since then, so why can’t it work now?