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Lords overwhelmingly back offsite construction on public jobs

Offsite manufacturing

The House of Lords has backed offsite construction, calling for a greater use of new technologies.

A debate in the House of Lords saw many peers support the wider adoption of offsite construction and manufacturing for construction, to boost productivity, develop skills and meet house building targets heading into an uncertain Brexit Britain.  

Lord Borwick called on the government to adopt offsite construction methods into public projects to develop the supply chain for private sector work, such as house building.  

“Offsite manufacture is likely to be more economic efficient safe and automatable than traditional home building,” he said. “It ought to the be the obvious thing to do.”  

“The government itself could start buying these [offsite manufactured] materials for use in its own projects – for instance prison building projects, while a leader here, could make even more use of offsite manufacturing.” 

Borwick also added that the UK’s current planning regulations did not favour offsite construction, and should be changed to accommodate it, not hold it back.  

“But there is something we have not addressed which unfortunately renders the good intentions and good actions somewhat futile, and this is our restrictive planning system – one of the main reasons we don’t build enough houses,” he added. 

The Innovation in Construction Report released in the autumn by law firm Clyde and Co said capital costs and lack of expertise are the two top barriers to the uptake of off-site manufacture

In total, 59% of respondents believed investment costs were the primary factor hindering the implementation of offsite construction and manufacturing, followed by 48% identifying a lack of relevant expertise within their organisation.

Baroness Young of Old Scone warned however, that despite benefits gained through better implementation of offsite construction methods, the industry must be careful not to outstep its capacity. 

“The risk of success is that the market might overheat, and outrun manufacturing capacity with resulting disruption in delivery adversely affecting clients,” she said. “Security of supply must be assured and management of the development of the market is important.”  

Former ICE president Lord Mair said that the technologies offered by offsite manufacturing could “significantly improve” the productivity and quality of the sector.  

He added: “The construction industry suffers from poor productivity and new technologies such as offsite manufacture could significantly improve the productivity of the industry.”  

The deabte followed a parliamentary inquiry, in boosting productivity in construction.  

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