Dec 24, 2015

Four issues (and the answers) around the Government’s new home ambitions

If one government ever cracks the housing shortage conundrum, surely it will be rewarded with 100 years in Downing Street?

Perhaps that was what George Osborne was aiming for when he announced earlier this month the Government would build 400,000 new homes by the end of this decade. As ever, bold government policies have their naysayers, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Aside from funding, there are four key issues which need to be addressed before Mr Osborne’s vision can be delivered. We think timber systems combined with offsite construction methods can make a significant impact on all four.

1. The Problem: poor productivity.

Productivity has long been an issue for most sectors; ie our economy isn’t sufficiently productive to allow a smooth growth path and predictable outcomes. We produce less per hour than most of our European counterparts. The impact on construction projects can include slower build times, sub-optimal site management, and a host of other problems. That then limits growth, obstructs cashflow and a host of associated issues.

How timber systems and offsite construction can help.

Productivity has at its core the output of the people engaged in a given project. When the constituent timber systems for a new home, office building, hotel or any other build arrives on site pre-constructed, there are far fewer people required to erect it. That also means a shorter build time, allowing in follow-on trades more quickly. If you’re building a house, it can therefore be taken to market sooner, or a commercial development can be occupied and revenue-generating weeks ahead of a traditionally-built comparator.

2. The Problem: closing the performance gap.

A key challenge for the construction industry is environmental performance standards. Better eco performance from the built environment is not simply limited to ever-tightening legislative requirements, but also from end users – whether those are homeowners keen to save money on energy bills and reduce their environmental impact, or commercial landlords wishing to attract tenants with a superior BREEAM rating.

However, the environmental performance on an architect’s design doesn’t always translate precisely to the final build. It can require extensive and costly post-build adjustments to bring the building in question up to standard. This ‘design vs as-built’ performance gap is such a concern for government that it has invested millions into closing the gap, in order to meet its environmental targets.

How timber systems and offsite construction can help.

The fabric-first approach of timber systems means that environmental performance is built into the envelope of the finished product; our Sigma II closed panel solution helps to achieve the required as-built performance. Having bespoke units manufactured under factory-controlled conditions, with design tolerance measured in single millimetres, results in a finished product which lives up to the design envisaged by the architect.


3. The Problem: shortage of labour

The construction industry continues to suffer from a serious shortage of skilled tradespeople, with knock-on effects for the speed at which projects can be delivered. If the sector is to play its full role in the economic recovery, there has to be a solution to the lack of labour in the market.

How timber systems and offsite construction can help

Timber systems are manufactured offsite in a highly-automated process, relying on a small number of very skilled individuals to ensure the finished product is of the utmost quality. On-site, small teams erect the timber systems to create the superstructure; reducing the number of people required during traditional build processes. While labour remains limited, offsite construction and timber systems mean project viability doesn’t have to suffer.


4. The Problem: scaling it up

Given the volume of new homes required to meet the UK’s housing shortage, and the percentage of those which will be required to be delivered at an affordable price, there’s a clear challenge for policymakers and industry around scalability.

Quality is an area which can’t be compromised, and building materials have increased in price, so how can we develop great products at a lower cost?

How timber systems and offsite construction can help.

Cost is about more than simply the price you pay for materials. Timber systems are erected on-site by small teams of experts, and require very little in the way of aftercare – once in place they will continue to perform as specified. All of that means fewer people are required on-site. Offsite construction, under precise factory manufacturing processes, means waste is limited both in the factory and on-site.

Our factories in Aberdeen and Oxford can produce 10,000 units per year; adapting this level of manufacturing speed and high quality more widely across the industry would have exponential benefit to the rate of house building. As I’ve mentioned already, the performance designed into those products results in a superior quality in the finished building.

We shouldn’t underestimate the challenge in front of us, but the level of momentum and will coming from Government and industry suggests that 400,000 new homes by the end of 2020 is by no means an unachievable goal.

Homes For Scotland Home Builders Federation National House-Building Council Royal Institute of British Architects Structural Timber Association Constructionline British Board of Agrement Wood Campus Build Off Site Building Research Establishment WOOD FOR GOOD

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