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Collaboration and Diversification are key to delivering targets

With UK housing availability adversely affecting millions, and the economy sinking into recession as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, we must adapt and evolve quickly to meet housebuilding demand, and to ensure we can align with the Government’s net-zero 2050 goals.

It’s been a challenging year for many, but one positive that Coronavirus has brought is an   understanding of the need for wider adoption of industry solutions. While several technologies were already established, it was a case of needing to accelerate their use in order to meet the demand now set by a clearer focus on the housing industry.    

The work being undertaken by the Advanced Industrialised Methods for the Construction of Homes (AIMCH) project underpins this.

The flagship three-year AIMCH housing innovation project was established in 2019, bringing together significant players within the sector to transform how homes are built with the intention of combatting the UK housing crisis.

The project helps to deliver vital data for better decision-making, whilst supporting change and investment within the industry to streamline the construction process. Since the changes brought into play by Coronavirus, it’s clear to see that many who have adopted new measures plan to stick with them; and that, more and more, executives are placing real value on data that will help drive productivity.

The housing shortage is a real problem. The Government committed to building 300,000 homes per year, and this simply can’t be done using traditional construction methods alone – heightening the need for industry to collaborate, and for MMC to be embraced.

Speed, quality and efficiency are all challenges faced by the sector. Not only are we trying to meet housing demand by producing more, and at scale, it’s also about a meaningful response to heightened demand for ecologically responsible practices – such as digital working, lean site assembly, using sustainable products and offsite construction.

Whilst offsite construction is becoming more popular thanks to a combination of factors – from environmental considerations to skills shortages in the industry and, of course, the heightened demand for homes – adaptations to on site methods cannot be ignored.

Stewart Milne Group has been working alongside Barratt and other AIMCH partners to trial new, smart construction methods on the Pewterspear site near Warrington.

We worked on developing MMC panelised prototyping – closed panel systems with pre-fitted windows and pre-finished floors. These plots could be erected without the need for scaffolding, and pre-tiled roofs assembled on site at ground level, in a bid to increase health and safety by eliminating the need to work from height and reducing the number of workers required on site – particularly important in times of social distancing.

They could also be delivered at speed – with one home on this site being erected in just six hours. The project generated plenty of attention, with the Prime Minister even paying a visit to the site just weeks after the announcement of his housing strategy. 

A commercial analysis is set to be completed with the wider AIMCH team to help identify product development ideas that can be taken forward for our future strategy in construction. Research such as this will be trialled on live housing projects throughout the next three years, with the aim being to commercialise successful new methods, bringing them to market in volume.

Stewart Milne Group, together with L&Q and Barratt, are also looking into the standardisation of home fittings and fixtures – walls, windows, and doors. The aim is to be able to provide the level of standardisation that can be witnessed in the car industry, and the next step will be to work with the supply chain to develop these and trial them in future homes.

Not only will this help to improve productivity and reliability, and help with both quality management and material scheduling, it can be applied to any type of building – not just housing; and we are in the process of establishing an industry guide to encourage a move towards BIM (Building Information Modelling).

The pandemic has demonstrated how quickly social change can occur – and the power of the government in driving that change. These are strong conditions for Government to reinforce the climate-positive behaviours that have emerged during lockdown throughout industry. The ‘Build, Build, Build’ directive is a positive first step.

As we work towards achieving net zero by 2050, it is vital the entire industry and government operate  in partnership to bring together developments in skills, procurement, design, products and materials; as well as ensuring that the steps taken in the years ahead deliver the quality and performance necessary for whole-life low carbon buildings.

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