"The future is offsite"

The words "housing crisis" do not seem to be going away. London in particular is in dire need of new homes across a range of sizes, price points and tenures. But it looks unlikely that the industry will be able to hit the Government's target of building 300,000 new homes every year.

The construction industry is one that is often reticent to change, but the increasing use of offsite and modular methods can help to provide the housing stock badly needed at a quicker and more economical rate. Offsite construction methods become more economical as the scale of production increases and schemes with large amounts of homes built or prepared offsite are becoming a more common sight in the UK.

The benefits of offsite and modular methods are clear. Preparing units in controlled factory conditions avoids weather having a significantly detrimental effect on site and using standardised processes ensuring consistency allows better quality end products. The timescale can also be significantly reduced using offsite methods, particularly when building in the winter when conditions slows down many sites. Offsite construction then has a clear opportunity to revolutionise the industry and help meet the demand for housing.

Whilst for some the idea of offsite construction may seem a relatively new idea, there are a number of developers already pushing the industry forward and adapting and innovating building techniques. Homes can now even be built using 3D printers and some developers are looking to fundamentally change the way that homes are built.

Offsite construction also offers the opportunity to personalise homes, giving purchasers the chance early on in the project to specify parts of their house. This not only helps to address concerns about the prefabricated nature of living in offsite constructed developments, but offers purchasers the opportunity to feel like they have a real design input on their homes not afforded in the usual property market.

Whilst the above benefits may be common knowledge in the industry, offsite construction industry may also have more nuanced benefits. It is clear that the one of the key challenges facing the construction industry is a dwindling skilled workforce which necessitates an alternative less labour intensive method of building.

Young people are shunning traditional trades and perceptions of a male dominated industry often put of potential female employees. The industry needs to reengage with young people and women to offer more attractive careers in the industry. Offsite, modular and more technological construction methods could offer potentially more attractive careers to these disaffected groups, helping reengage the industry with potential recruits and ensure its sustainability going forward.

Whilst offsite construction might still be in its infancy, with major developers yet to adopt it on a grand scale. It is clear that offsite construction offers a massive opportunity to expand the industry and will have a major impact on the way that our buildings are created. It can and should play a crucial role in helping to address the need for new homes. Historic reservations about the quality and feel of offsite projects are no longer relevant, but the industry and major housebuilders are still yet to adopt the offsite industry fully.

Currently it seems that only affordable, rental and alternative resi developments are being produced offsite, but going forward we expect to see the industry adopt offsite construction more whole heartedly. It does not offer a simple fix to the 300,000 homes needed to be built every year, and a housing market based on blended methods of traditionally built home and offsite methods is still a sensible approach for developers. But it is clear, that the future is offsite.

This article first appeared in Construction News in March 2019.