Government failure on MMC “predictable” says timber frame boss

2 February 2024

The UK Government should have focused on tried and tested panelised build systems rather than a complex MMC (Modern Methods of Construction) approach, a leading timber frame industry executive has said after publication of new conclusions by the Government’s Built Environment Committee.

The Built Environment Committee concluded the Government needed to change direction on MMC and that “throwing money at the sector hasn’t worked”, referencing several company failures in the modular market. The Government, it said, needed to acquire a much deeper understanding of how MMC works, develop a clear strategy, and demonstrate leadership.

Pinewood Structures MD Geoff Arnold said the committee conclusions on MMC were “predictable”.  “The Government was sold a pup by emphasising modular or extreme levels of the newly invented term 'PMV' instead of opting for tried and tested panelised systems, which have been around for decades,” Mr Arnold said.

“When housing volumes are high, panelised systems always prove beneficial, driving productivity gains and delivering much-needed housing. Why didn’t the government focus on this sector rather than going for the 'moon shot' of modular?”

Mr Arnold said modular systems were too inflexible for the UK housing market and the vagaries of the planning system.

He added that the economics of modular make it financially unviable unless manufacturers can deliver substantial productivity gains, such as ten times factory efficiency gains compared to normal on-site building practices.

“There is simply too much focus on the shiny factory rather than considering how it works on-site. You still have to deliver a unit into a muddy field. You still have to clad it. You still have to put a roof on it. All of these steps take time and slow down the whole process, not to mention general unpredictable site delays, all of which lead to unforecasted costs.”

Mr Arnold said attention and resources should be directed towards the panelised sector, rather than significant sums going into failed modular ventures.

“As the housing demand persists, a strategic shift towards these well-understood and resilient solutions should pave the way for a more efficient and effective future in the realm of MMC.”