Government wants MMC ‘silicon valley’ in the north

25 October 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

Esther McVey

Housing minister Esther McVey is has announced government plans to create a new ‘centre for excellence’ for modern methods of construction (MMC) in the north of England to boost construction of new homes.

McVey visited Factory 2050 yesterday, part of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, to meet developers and small businesses.

The centre of excellence aims to create a new network of people involved in the use of MMC and encourage them to share ideas and future uses.

McVey said: “We must invest in this new technology. It’s as simple as that. The benefits are clear. Some modular homes can be built in a factory over a week. And assembled on site in a day. Industry has told us some homes built using modern methods can have 80% fewer defects and heating bills up to 70% lower. Homes built using modern methods can be of higher quality, greener and built to last.

“I want to see a housing green revolution. In the north of England where the first industrial revolution began. With our emphasis on safety, quality and beauty, we could be the global leaders in housing standards. And if we get it right, once the industry matures it could be worth an estimated £40 billion to this country. A new post-Brexit industry. To build all these new homes we will need a brand-new workforce to make these homes offsite. The north of England has the potential to be the construction capital of the country for this new technology, and we need to fully embrace this. This could be a new hub. Think Silicon Valley. The ‘construction corridor’.”

'Fantastic opportunity'

Mark Farmer, chair of the MMC Working Group and author of the report Modernise or Die, said: “The UK has a fantastic opportunity to become a true world leader in the advanced manufacturing of new homes. We urgently need to better assure building safety, improve quality, reduce carbon and offer much more consumer choice and protections.

“These improvements will only be achieved if we fundamentally readdress the way we design and deliver new homes. As part of achieving this aim, the establishment of a centre of excellence for modern methods of construction in the north of England will leverage what is already a growing part of the regional economy.

“I am pleased that government is driving this important initiative and I look forward to helping make this a success in coordination with all key stakeholders.”

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) welcomed the news. Chief executive Caroline Gumble said: “We’re pleased to see the government is recognising the opportunities to promote modern methods of construction, particularly with the centre of excellence in the north of England. With its heritage in engineering and manufacturing, the north has much to gain from the changing face of construction if it seizes the opportunities and we hope that the new centre for excellence can bring together and promote clusters of construction-related businesses.

"Technology is also opening up the possibilities that building offsite will ensure we have the precision-manufactured homes that meet requirements for quality and safety. The CIOB is committed to ensuring that both are at the heart of what is being delivered across construction and this will also open up another avenue to attract future talent into the sector.”

MMC was used in around 15,000 homes across the country in 2015 and firms like Laing O’Rourke have invested in offsite technology with its Explore Industrial Park near Worksop. Ilke Homes, which has plans to build 2,000 new homes annually, also has a factory in Knaresborough.


Predicted in 2014.

I work on behalf of a household name retirement developer and have done for some years. I was one of the first university employed construction based staff members and can recall the negativity / guarded concern around employing youth of the new generation and feel there are similarities in the way technology is viewed. I look forward to the future and what technology brings as I am a believer in a technological equilibrium. ‘Work smarter not harder’. I can already start to see positive change as the company I work for has just recently undertaken some work and invested in a couple of new large software systems. Both of which have been publicised in UK industry journals and I believe one was covered recently by construction Manager publication in a mini presentation. I look forward to seeing the northern Silicon valley and the benefits it can deliver to the south. I only hope it will bring the Californian weather ;)

Karl Hetherington, 28 October 2019

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