The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee's detailed report on off-site manufacturing was published last week.
The main problem identified is not new - as it currently stands, the construction sector cannot efficiently meet the UK's housing need and will potentially struggle to meet future infrastructure needs.
One potential solution, according to the report, is off-site manufacturing -"It provides clear and tangible benefits which make a compelling case for its widespread use".
The report claims that those benefits include:
- better quality buildings and infrastructure;
- enhanced client experience;
- fewer labourers and increased productivity;
- creating more regional jobs away from large towns and cities;
- improved health and safety for workers;
- making it easier to ensure buildings meet quality assurance standards;
- improved sustainability of buildings and infrastructure; and
- reduced disruption to local communities during construction.
Despite these potential benefits, however, it appears that (a) take up of off-site manufacturing is patchy and (b) the construction industry and government can and should do more to change this.
The report focuses on what the government can do, including:
- continuing its "presumption in favour" of off-site manufacturing;
- in accordance with recent government announcements, investing in the housing sector (and investing in such a way as to encourage the use of off-site manufacturing);
- working with the construction industry to make sure that the next generation of workers are equipped with new and necessary technical skills;
- moving public sector procurement away from upfront cost to "whole-life value"; and
- funding research and development that focuses on showing the value that off-site manufacturing can bring over the lifetime of buildings and infrastructure.
A number of pioneering developers and contractors are apparently already seeing some benefits from their early investment in off-site manufacturing.
It will be interesting to see if the government follows the suggestions in the report to provide further endorsement, funding and incentives for off-site manufacturing - and, if it does, whether or not the rest of the industry follows those pioneers.
There is an opportunity for the UK to maintain its position at the forefront of off-site manufacture globally in the commercial and high-rise residential sectors.