n June 2020, the Prime Minister made a speech announcing Project Speed: “We will build better and build greener, but we will also build faster.” The clarion call was loud and clear – it’s not just about ensuring our built environment is fit-for-purpose but ensuring speedy delivery too.
With pressures on financial purse strings as we come out of the pandemic, and huge political ambitions around net zero and ‘levelling up’, it is clear that major investment is only viable if it is delivered in a “better” way.
However, analysis undertaken by ourselves at ACE shows that delays are still an issue. Of the top 100 projects identified in the 2020/21 National Infrastructure & Construction Pipeline, estimates are that six months after the Pipeline’s publication, 14% were slightly delayed and 7% were significantly delayed. Only a transformation of the way our built environment is designed and delivered will address some these endemic challenges. Offsite manufacturing is central to this, of course.
Readers of Offsite Magazine will be all too aware of its potential. Not only can it help tackle the big issues, such as easing the housing crisis and helping society on its net zero journey, but it can also improve construction productivity while speeding up its delivery.
Given its huge potential, ACE was delighted to pull together the views of its members on the issue in a recently released report, ‘Project Speed and off-site manufacturing'
Our paper outlined clear opportunities for offsite to deliver affordable housing, built-to-rent homes, elderly care, educational, custodial, defence housing, hospitals and roads. Offsite manufacture can deliver in all these areas while being more sustainable – with reduced pollution from transport around the site, as well as improved health and safety.
A potentially huge prize
The experience of ACE members, backed up by research from the National Audit Office, McKinsey, and others shows that the use of offsite manufacture at scale can routinely reduce the cost and time of construction by between 30 to 50%. Applied to £11.7billion planned social infrastructure spending between 2022/3 to 2024/5, this would equate to a ‘benefit’ of around £3.5billion to £5.9billion.
Despite this, decisive action is needed to ensure offsite manufacture becomes an everyday reality for those working in our sector. There are encouraging signs from Government. It has talked of talked of a “presumption in favour of offsite”, and its report, ‘Transforming Infrastructure Procurement: Roadmap to 2030’, commits the Government to “enabling and increasing the use of ‘platform’ approaches in construction.”
More recently, the Government published its review commissioned by Lord Agnew and led by Professor Mosey with a brief to create a new ‘Gold Standard’ for public sector frameworks and framework controls. Within this, it contained a series of proposals aimed at modern methods of construction (MMC) and promoting offsite manufacturing.”
The end-result is a missed opportunity to use Government procurement to drive wider adoption. Guto Davies
Reality needs to match ambitions
However, the ambition is still ahead of the reality in many respects. While Government has made positive noises around leveraging procurement to drive wider adoption, its previously made pledges have only resulted in the Department for Education procuring 22 major offsite contracts, with the remaining Government departments procuring only one more between them to date.
The end-result is a missed opportunity to use Government procurement to drive wider adoption. It also shows that more needs to be done to champion offsite and MMC, and that a detailed strategy is needed to enable the vision of much wider use of platform approaches and offsite manufacturing – as set out in Transforming Infrastructure Procurement: Roadmap to 2030.
We believe that a ten-year overarching offsite strategy would deliver a clear vision, ambitious objectives and goals, well-considered critical success factors, a time-bound plan with discrete milestones, and metrics to measure progress. All of which would be designed to unleash offsite’s potential far-beyond the initial 23 major projects mentioned above, and deliver consistent demand, changes in procurement, and the adoption of a more standardised component-based approach. These are all areas with potential for wider application across construction projects in the UK and beyond.
Bringing everyone on the journey
With much of the focus on larger projects and initiatives, we need to ensure that we bring everyone on the journey. SMEs and smaller stakeholders also have a key role to play.
Targeted support for lower-end and smaller scale adoption would also be welcome. This could include support for the manufacturers of components, rather than just focusing on larger players who gear their investments predominantly towards factories. Undertaking a capacity study for the availability of offsite options and putting forward a strategy to work with suppliers to incentivise gap-filling, would also be useful.
Finally, help could be given to smaller local government procurement departments to adopt offsite policies through aggregation. For example, enabling small residential urban plots across a few local authorities to be served by a group of offsite manufacturers.
Industry needs to show the way
While much of our report focused on the steps Government should take, we are also aware of the vital role industry plays in this debate. We should be advocating the benefits of offsite manufacturing to all stakeholders and tackling the unfair stigma that it “restrains design”. We could encourage and embrace more collaborative delivery models with early engagement between clients, designers and offsite manufacturing contractors to explore opportunities for offsite.
Furthermore, adopting a more standardised platform approach to pre-manufactured components, would also help. Our industry has made great strides over the last decade laying the foundations for collaborative and standardised approaches through the adoption and use of digital. We can now use this to help realise the undoubted potential for offsite.