Off Site Modular Construction Can the Construction Business Build More Homes Smarter?

Off-site manufacture for construction: Building for
Oral and Written evidence

Full Transcript and written evidence Report

Witness(es): Professor Jeremy Watson CBE, Vice-Dean of Engineering Sciences and Professor of Engineering Systems, University College London Mr Phil Wilbraham, Expansion Programme Director, Heathrow Airport Professor Jennifer Whyte, Director of the Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation, Imperial College London

Professor Jeremy Watson: Housing for me is where we have the real
gap in capacity against the objectives the Government have, and we are
massively underperforming there. There is quite a lot of investment going
on in various housebuilding companies and in some of the case studies
that we have submitted they have been able to demonstrate benefits. At
BRE we have a number of full-scale houses that were built on-site that
people live in to try them out. This type of off-site manufacture can be
quite small scale. It can be done in pop-up factories or in small local
units. I guess that contrasts with, say, Laing O’Rourke which has a factory
in Steetley working on very large concrete reinforced structures, which
are very specialised and more bespoke. There is a whole spectrum and
that is probably less advanced but some countries are leading edge. At
the housing end we are probably just a procurement gap away from doing
much more of it because it is not that difficult to set up.
There are some other interesting points you raised about the
Government’s interventions, and those of you who have looked at building
information modelling—BIM—which of course was mandated as of April
last year or the year before, will know that government procurement
above £5 million-worth has to use building information modelling, which is
an essential ingredient for what we are talking about today. It is an
essential ingredient but it does not specify off-site manufacture in itself.
The point there is that the procurement rules can be very effective. The
residual question around procurement when I started thinking about it—it
sounds great, the Government procures against certain requirements—is:
will the private sector follow, will shareholders of public companies say,
“The Government are doing this so why are we not?” I do not see much
evidence of that at the moment and that deserves some research and

24th April House of Lords evidence Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: Is not transportation sometimes a
Professor Jeremy Watson: Indeed. Going back to BRE, one particular
building was put up that required 60-tonne loads which were too large for
some of the motorways so we had to choose the route. Again, that is a
case of systems design, how you break it down and what granularity of
the modularity you are seeking. The smaller you get it—think of Lego
blocks—the more flexible you can be with the solution. Also,
manufacturing close to the point of consumption, as was said by Phil, is
absolutely key. We do not want one big factory off-site in the middle of
the country and an overloaded infrastructure. There are some so-called
pop-up factories these days. For some domestic buildings, for example
from Bill Dunster’s ZEDfactory, they will put up a temporary

manufacturing unit and take it down again when they have finished. @15.39.47

Witness(es): Ms Rosie Toogood, CEO, Legal and General Modular Homes Mr Jamie Ratcliff, Assistant Director, Greater London Authority Mr Tim Carey, National Product Director, Willmott Dixon

Witnesses: Dr Mark Bew MBE, Chair, PCSG, and Mr Mark Enzer, Chief Technical Officer, Mott MacDonald
Witnesses: Mr Mark Farmer, CEO, Cast, Mr Steve Radley, Director of Policy, Construction Industry Training Board, Mr Mark Reynolds, Chief Executive, Mace, and Mr Dick Elsy, CEO, High Value Manufacturing Catapult

Witness(es): Mr Andrew Morris, Partner, Rogers Stirk Harbour Ms Jane Richards, Director, Building structures, WSP Mr Jamie Johnston, Director, Bryden Wood

Witness(es): Dr Sarah Williamson, Technical Director, Laing O’Rourke Mr Martin Kelly, Strategic Business Development Director, Severfield Mr David Hurcomb, Chief Executive, NG Bailey

Witness(es): Ms Suzannah Nichol MBE, Chief Executive, Build UK Mr Simon Rawlinson, Construction Industry Council Dr Diana Montgomery, Chief Executive, Construction Products Association
Witness(es): Mr Andrew Wolstenholme OBE, Co-Chair, Construction Leadership Council

Witnesses: Mr Tony Meggs, Chief Executive, Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Ms Ann Bentley, Global Practice Director, Rider Levett Bucknall, Mr Matin Chown, Infrastructure Client Group
Witnesses: Mr Richard Harrington MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Infrastructure and Construction), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: The Chancellor said that five government
departments are going to adopt a “presumption in favour” of modern
methods of construction, including off-site, next year. When I first read
that expression, I felt that it could have been lifted from a script of “Yes
Minister”, because it can mean almost anything.
Richard Harrington MP: It probably was.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: I am sure that was not on your mind, as
you have a very practical understanding of what it means. Will you spell
that out for us? When I worked in No. 10 I found that co-operation
between two government departments was difficult, so to get to five, and
to add in the Treasury if it is one of them, will be very complex.
Richard Harrington MP: The Treasury is not directly involved in this. Let
me explain which departments are. I have not had the pleasure of
working in No. 10 as Lord Griffiths and Baroness Morgan have. I cannot
speak for other members, but Baroness Neville-Jones has worked in
buildings adjacent to No. 10, I know.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: Sounds sinister.
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