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House builders will need to be much more innovative to solve Wales’ social housing shortfall

A perfect storm of skills shortages in the construction industry, Brexit plus increased demand for sustainability and potential cost and efficiency savings within the construction industry will result in a rise of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) within Wales’ social housing sector.

That’s the view of a social housing legal expert who says the increasing pressure to build more homes will mean builders – especially those from the housing association (HA) sector – will become much more innovative in terms of how they actually construct the new homes required.

Vicky Kells, who has forged a reputation as a prominent practitioner in social housing finance andwho leads a 15-strong legal team at Clarke Willmott LLP, was speaking at the Community Housing Cymru Finance Conference, where she said HAs are pushing the boundaries in terms of innovation and delivery.

She said:

“At present there’s a “wait and see” approach from the traditional funding sources to the use of MMC as loan security. However, pressure to build more homes and an improvement in the quality and reliability of modular construction methods will, I believe, see this nervousness ease.

“HAs are keen to be more innovative in terms of construction and the Welsh Government is already funding some pilot projects as part of its Innovative Housing Programme.”

MMC, and in particular modular construction, covers the various methods and processes involved in taking the construction of a project away from the traditional “construction site” and placing it within a system of off-site manufacture/fabrication, where components are constructed, put together and ultimately delivered “ready-made” for installation at the final site.

Vicky added:

“There has been some nervousness in the market around the quality and longevity of the end product with early critics querying how a “production line” approach could deliver the same quality as something built under developing conditions on site.

“However, this mind-set is now being widely mooted as a misconception, thanks to the availability of ever-improving technology, design and manufacturing processes.

“The technology advances in the construction industry over the last decade have been far-reaching. The design process now benefits from sophisticated CAD and BIM technologies that enable designers to accurately design and programme to ever more-achievable tolerances.

“The development of the Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS) and National House-Building Council (NHBC) warranties for modular construction projects have also helped lenders release the purse strings a little more.

“And while using MMC will not solve single-handedly the housing crisis, it will certainly assist in increasing the numbers of homes being built and which are desperately needed across Wales.”