The UK’s Construction Sector Requires a Radical Overhaul to Meet Housing Targets

Following a challenging period for the construction sector in recent years, the House of Lords has released a report arguing that the industry needs to be completely overhauled if it is to recover and meet housing and infrastructure targets.


The sector has had its share of setbacks in 2018 alone, stemming from harsh weather conditions, a lack of skilled workers and rising material costs. Projects across the country are still recovering from these disruptions, stunting productivity for companies nationwide.  


A report from the House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee states that urgent solutions are essential to the revitalisation of the industry in the coming years. Innovations such as off-site manufacturing (OSM) need to be adopted in order to make the industry more efficient, to reduce environmental impacts and to reduce labour demands. The committee heard evidence that OSM would be the only way to meet the government’s target to build 300,000 houses a year by 2020, as traditional construction methods do not have the capacity to reach this number.  


Lord Patel, Chairman of the Committee, stated that “there are clear and tangible benefits from off-site manufacture for construction which make a compelling case for its widespread use” and that OSM has “many environmental advantages over traditional methods.” Evidence suggests that OSM could increase productivity in the sector by up to 70%


The Committee also emphasised that a collaborative effort between clients, designers, and contractors is vital to tackle productivity issues, as the report points out that the UK is lagging behind other countries. The Committee also uncovered a fragmented picture of distrust across the construction sector that needs to be overcome. For this to happen, the Construction Leadership Council will need to work to provide the resources and leadership required to improve relations throughout the industry


OSM could be integral to transforming the current state of the construction sector, however, “outdated and unsustainable business models that are not conducive to OSM for construction” mean that widespread implementation of methods such as this is limited in the UK.


While OSM could tackle the sector’s labour shortage, the skills required for manufacturing are currently lacking in the UK labour market, illustrating the need for further training. For the application of OSM to be possible, a combination of skills involving site implementation, digital techniques and procurement will be essential. It will be the government’s responsibility to ensure that workers entering the industry have the necessary digital skills that are desperately needed to tackle modern building methods and innovations.


The government aims to “bring together the construction, manufacturing, energy and digital sectors in a new hub to commercialise technologies capable of building assets which are both cost effective and energy efficient.”


The Government’s Construction Sector Deal and its interest in OSM have shown a strong desire to devote resources to resolve the issue of meeting housing targets. The Committee welcomes the “presumption of favour” of OSM as well as a number of other initiatives, and recommends that the government sets out to publish Key Performance Indicators to assess the success of a ‘presumption of favour’ policy. If a project dismisses the use of off-site manufacture, then the Committee highlighted that the government should publish a statement justifying the decision.

Lord Patel concluded that “the role of the Government and the wider public sector is pivotal in a move to greater use of off-site manufacture. The report sets out actions that the Committee thinks the Government should take including implementation of the Construction Sector Deal, committed execution of the ‘presumption in favour’ of off-site manufacture and a greater move to procuring for whole-life value rather than lowest cost,”

To accomplish a radical overhaul, long term collaboration within the sector is urgently needed. Implementation of updated techniques such as OSM to improve productivity and necessary training will also be essential to meet housing needs. Time will only tell if these proposals will have a substantial impact in the ongoing recovery of the UK’s construction industry.


The full report can be read here


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