Why building off-site is a smarter choice to meet the UK's housing targets

Paul Lang, Chief Executive Officer at Caledonian, looks at how modular and off-site construction can help to alleviate the housing crisis in the UK.



he number of homeless households in England has risen to more than 50,000 a year, with many of the people affected living in temporary accommodation and almost 2000 living without a roof over their heads. As a result, pressure is mounting on housing associations, local authorities and developers to build new homes quickly and cost-effectively to alleviate the problem.

However, to meet increasing demand, the Government would need to commission the construction of approximately 250,000 new homes each year, through to 2030. Current annual construction levels sit around 50% of this figure, with only 63% of traditional construction projects delivered on time, and only 49% delivered to budget. It is clear to see that conventional building techniques, while still integral, cannot meet the challenge alone.

This creates a unique opportunity for off-site construction to become the key building method to meet the demand in the housing industry, with analysts predicting that 2018 will be the breakthrough year for modular. More than 15,000 homes in Britain are built annually using this method. However, according to 2017’s Housing White Paper, the Government intends increased utilisation of off-site technologies and increased access to finance, with the aim of raising the total number of modular homes built each year to 100,000 by 2020.

In preparation, we recently signed a collaborative partnership agreement with Arcadis, the leading global design and consultancy firm for natural and built assets. Focusing specifically on the residential sector, we will work alongside the company to develop new modular designs and to build additional capacity in the commercial and technical delivery of new housing.

As part of the partnership, Arcadis will bring residential insight and expertise, along with design and construction management support. This will allow us to focus on our manufacturing and delivery capacity. It means that, together, we can offer a fully integrated housing solution, from initial design concept, through to manufacturing, construction and project completion.

Smarter choice

Compared to building using traditional methods, the residential sector benefits enormously from off-site construction. More than 80 to 90% of the work can be completed in a factory, like our Newark-based facility, a quality-controlled environment, unaffected by the weather or skills shortages on site. This significantly reduces the likelihood of delays to the project. In addition, off-site offers minimal disruption to the surrounding community by ensuring rapid build and significantly reducing deliveries and activities to site.

Suitable to more than just housing, off-site construction delivers a raft of benefits in all sectors – schools, hotels, communal buildings, further and higher education, retail, commercial outlets and health; amongst others. Offering a full turnkey solution, we design and build to an exacting specification, offer a wide range of finishes and roofing options, and a design that fits seamlessly alongside any existing structures.

Furthermore, manufacturing off-site, in itself, creates a safer workplace, being a more controlled environment, requiring less need for working at height. Modular is also more economical and kinder to the environment, with a dramatic reduction in waste and the consumption of materials such as cement, compared to traditional build methods.

One of the most significant industry achievements is our recent project at Hinkley Point C power station – designing, building and delivering nearly 1500, three-star hotel-style accommodation modules for the project’s key workers.

Like any project of this scale, a large influx of workers would place undue stresses on an already tight local housing market. EDF Energy took the decision early in the project to commission Caledonian, with completion in as little as six weeks from the modules arriving on site.

Manufacturing to permanent building standards at our Newark facility, in at least half the time it would have taken had they been constructed traditionally, we delivered to site an incredible 96% complete, all en-suite rooms fully fitted-out, including external cladding.

The campus is expected to operate for six and a half years, after which the buildings will be removed, re-sited and re-used, with some key infrastructure remaining and gifted to the local community for housing and redevelopment needs, leaving a lasting legacy.

In summary

Modular technology not only helps to alleviate the housing crisis sooner, but it can also increase the capacity of the construction industry by making more productive use of labour and skills, and offer greater certainty in scheduling, along with additional quality, performance and safety benefits.

With modular construction a key theme in the Government’s Housing White Paper, increasing needs for permanent accommodation, increased environmental requirements, higher quality expectations, and increasing skill shortages in traditional construction trades, modular housing is expected to increase in popularity within the residential sector this year.

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