Dark yellow tint silhoutte of white joints and skyscrapers in the background.

3 French hens: are too many of our house-building eggs in their baskets?

05 December 2017

It's day three of our festive blog series, and with the word 'French' to play with we couldn't pass up the opportunity to mention Brexit: its potential impact on the rate at which we are building out new homes has been in the news a lot recently, with fears over the loss of foreign workers and slowdown across the economy.

It has been fairly widely reported that Britain's construction industry is taking on fewer workers due to the current economic uncertainties. With reduced confidence amongst some firms, and a risk that fewer foreign workers will be looking to move (or stay) here for work, there is bound to be some impact on building rates, although the extent of this remains to be seen.

At a recent seminar which I attended, Sir Terry Morgan, Chairman of Crossrail, said that the country does not need more bricklayers, it needs to work out how to use technology to reduce the number of bricklayers needed – and that sounds attractive when you think about the vast number of new homes which the government proposes are needed over the next few years.

It is reported that Britain imports around a fifth of its bricks from continental Europe. Will that need to change? Regardless, now seems like a very good time to consider alternative, modern methods of construction ("MMC"). Using pre-made frames and panels would reduce the need for specialist workers, and indeed labour requirements for such schemes are generally lower than for the more traditional construction methods in any case.

Last summer, the NHBC Foundation published a report which set out the housebuilding industry's main reasons for considering use of MMC. The main reason was to achieve a faster build programme, but not far from the top of the list was as a way to tackle the skills shortage – and indeed this was given as the main reason that organisations expected MMC to play a greater role in house building in the future. The report goes on to say that over 40% of the house builders and housing associations questioned confirmed that this was indeed one of the practical effects of having chosen modern methods.

It seems that talk about MMC is becoming more commonplace, and the government has committed to encouraging them in the recent white paper 'Fixing our broken housing market'. Whilst they may need a bit more of a push to be seen as a serious alternative on a large scale, it will be interesting to see what will happen over the next couple of years. Ironically of course, MMC have already seen great success in many European countries.

See our full series of festive blogs here.