Insights from a roundtable discussion

Construction News recently hosted a roundtable discussion during which an expert industry panel assessed to what extent modern methods of construction, or MMC, are equipped to help the UK – and by extension, Ireland and the rest of the world –  to ‘build back better’. A fuller transcript of this discussion can be found here and it is well worth a read: 

The panel was made up of the following design and build professionals: Wayne Hill, construction services director at L&Q;  Jamie Hillier, founding partner at Akerlof; Kenny Ingram, vice president for engineering, construction and infrastructure industries at IFS; Emily King, client solutions director at Mid Group;  Maribel Mantecon, senior associate at HTA Design; Oliver Novakovic, technical and innovation director at Barratt Homes; Dan Pollard, head of manufacturing, House by Urban Splash; and Edward Rees, regional director at Wates. 

The key topic of discussion was about the role, if any, modern methods of construction have to play in changing and improving construction delivery.  The panel of experts tackled the issue of improving business processes across the industry and explored the ways by which MMC can drive future efficiencies. The discussion focused primarily on the delivery of new homes, for both the public and private sector. 

Wayne Hill, construction services director at housing association L&Q, spoke about the industry’s motivation to change, suggesting that MMC was initially seen as a solution to the growing skills gap and materials shortages, explaining: “You can do more with less, so it’s perfect”. 

Emily King, client solutions director at contractor Mid Group shared her team’s experience that  MMC made it easier to keep working throughout lockdown simply because they had fewer people on site anyway, therefore projects could stay on schedule. 

Oliver Novakovic, technical and innovation director at Barratt Homes, highlighted that “One of the things we get out of MMC is that we can deliver more units on a site…and if we deliver more units on the site with the same amount of people, we then get the savings we need in housebuilding to make it cost-effective. We can’t make MMC stack up unless we get the benefits out of it, which is delivering at speed”.

Maribel Mantecon, senior associate at HTA Design, spoke of the importance of “confidence in demand”, in order to attract the necessary investment into MMC facilities. She also emphasised the importance of government investment in this area. 

Jamie Hillier, founding partner of MMC consultancy Akerlof, honed in on some of the environmental benefits of MMC and cautioned against short-term thinking, despite the obvious pandemic pressures. He also explained that “It is very much a holistic approach, whether it be not only transitioning from onsite to offsite, but actually the adoption of your processes”.

Edward Rees, regional director at contractor Wates, called for a balanced approach to introducing change so that the existing supply chain can be brought along. 

Significantly, the panel addressed the sector’s image problem. As the Construction News report succinctly puts it: “It isn’t just construction that needs to change – it’s the great British house buying public too. With images of post-war prefabs still conjuring up negative associations, housebuilders can be wary of selling homes built using MMC. But that mindset could be ripe for change…

Companies need to become hybrid businesses, not just focused on the traditional construction model. They need to become manufacturing, logistics and construction centric” summarised Kenny Ingram, IFS. And we could not agree more. 

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