Construction needs to increase

its use of off-site construction methods to compensate for its skills shortage, clients warned at the client convention.

Off-site manufacture was recommended by Sir Michael Latham and Sir John Egan in their reviews as a way of increasing efficiency. But take-up of the method has been hampered by a reluctance to use prefabricated units in large enough quantities

to lower unit costs. This has prompted calls for firms to prefabricate more smaller components such as toilet cubicles.

Ian Callaghan, construction

and development director at supermarket chain Somerfield, said: “prefabrication needs to move on somehow. People view off-site manufacture narrowly as a prefabricated solution for entire units, which adds no value compared with on-site manufacture. It would be a big benefit if manufacturers could supply component parts.”

Callaghan said this type of

People view off-site manufacture narrowly as a prefabricated solution for entire units

Ian Callaghan, Somerfield

off-site manufacture would have

to become more available if the industry was to fulfil its order books. He said: “Nobody seems to want to invest in this, but they will have to eventually because of the skills shortage and the need to import goods from abroad.”

Callaghan was backed in his call for reform by Chris Sheedy, senior director at Brixton Investments.

Sheedy said: “It is very rare to see pod-type construction. When we’ve looked at prefabrication options, there haven’t been any available that would benefit us. But we mustn’t give up.”

Don Ward, deputy chief executive of Constructing Excellence in the Built Environment, said the lack of take-up of the methods was caused by a “catch-22” situation, with the supply chain and clients both being reluctant to make the first move towards mass use of the method.

He said: “The supply side doesn’t see a big enough off-site market to invest capital in factories to manufacture these goods. At the same time, the client does not see the evidence that it should be demanding it, as with a small market the price is too high.”

  • Britain’s first demountable multistorey housing development is to be erected this week in Southwark, south London. The £1.4m, three-story development of 18 key-worker flats has been prefabricated in Poland by Krakow-based Buma for Hyde Housing Association.
In five years’ time, the flats will be demounted and reassembled on a different site. Though the dwellings are designed for a 60-year life, Hyde adopted a temporary arrangement because it secured only a five-year lease on the site at Wyndham Road.