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The time is now to implement Modern Methods of Construction

Article by Buro Four's Colin Bartlett on Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) featured in latest copy of New London Quarterly

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Buro Four's Colin Bartlett, Head of Residential, shared his thoughts with New London Quarterly on why Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) are increasingly vital and, if properly implemented by industry and government, could be the key to solving the UK's housing issue.

The article was first published in the Winter 2016/2017 issue.


Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) is the hottest topic in the residential property industry right now and as collaborative project managers, we find ourselves spending more time examining delivery options to improve speed and certainty for our clients’ developments, such as Wadswick Green for Rangeford.

So what’s changed? For some time, the ‘traditional’ construction industry has been overheated with order books full, tender price inflation ever rising and labour availability dwindling. Development viability is being challenged from every angle and so, now is the time for innovation to be embraced on a large scale to meet demand for housing. This will only ever materialise through investment in viable alternative methods of construction delivery.

Manufacture is simple supply and demand - the demand is well documented and the need for collaborative working to resolve supply is underway. As we know, key players have already committed to adopting MMC, whether in full, or in part, elements of their residential units are being manufactured off-site in factories. Others watch and learn, deliberating on whether to follow suite.

But while MMC is undoubtedly gaining momentum, there are still question marks over key viability issues such as cost, programme and commercial risks. So where are the sensitivities in selecting MMC over more traditional methods of residential development?

During early design and feasibility stages, both developers and design teams need to commit to modular early on and be willing to adhere to a standard set of module sizes. For a Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) solution, the design needs to maintain vertical alignment floor by floor for structural conformity to realise full benefit. These options apply to individual projects and across multiple projects to realise maximum benefit.

The scale of the project or development programme also plays a major part. As with any manufacturing process, there is an economy in numbers and costs are likely to come down if modular construction becomes more widely adopted, creating a sustainable platform for the growth of a mature, competitive MMC industry.

Whilst every project is unique, we’ve recently found that the perceived existing uplift on construction costs for an off-site solution is noticeably reducing and when you then consider wider savings in below ground structure and speed of construction programme, that margin is quickly eroded. All things considered, the value proposition is quickly swinging more towards MMC solutions.

The growing Build-to-Rent sector has already been identified as the ideal environment where off-site construction could have the biggest impact and deliver the biggest step change in delivery of quality modular apartments. The scale of development programmes, a consistent brand and apartment layouts make it perfect for modular and repetition whilst quality is to a high standard.

We know that the MMC supply chain in the UK is growing and maturing with every project delivered. But now is the time for the industry to work collaboratively with government and local authorities in order to reap the benefits it can bring.