Ecobuild latest: Head of design for Lendlease says stigma of prefab is holding back offsite method

The head of design for developer and contractor Lendlease has said the construction industry needs to tackle the “stigma” surrounding pre-fabricated buildings if modular construction is to take off in the UK.

Lendlease’s Lucy Homer said developers could and should go much further: “There is a stigma surrounding prefab in that way. A firm like Lendlease may end up as a halfway house between the two methods, and it is about working with materials which can give an architectural expression but is using the new methods and materials available today”.

Speaking at a panel discussion at Ecobuild on the future of offsite construction, Homer said developers and contractor need the backing of investors or clients early on in a project in order to commit to using modular methods.

She added: “If you’re not designing for modulation right at the start you have to stop and start again. It requires client buy-in and has to be added at the beginning of the design process.”

Lynne Sullivan, member of the government’s green construction board, said modular housing can act as a brake on the burgeoning skills gap by enticing new apprentices into the sector.

She said: “We have an ageing workforce and the technical education funding which is rumoured in the Budget is good news. I gave evidence 15 years ago to a Lords committee which asked how to get the best and brightest into construction, offsite may provide the answer.”

New research set to be published by the CITB has found there is little provision for off-site in existing construction apprenticeship schemes.

Sullivan has called for a national retrofit programme which can start to address the skills issue: “The panacea is modular homes, but there is a lot of modulation which has gone on for years. The critical thing is who does the investment in the factory and training. Better build quality is absolutely key, all the stuff in the press about defects, we do not build the right level of quality.

“At the moment with traditional construction there’s a lack of rigour and onsite inspection. When you go into mass production you have to iron out every minor little detail, my work.”