At the end of last year the Treasury published its Infrastructure and Construction pipeline update with a strong reiteration of the government’s pledge to increase offsite construction methods in public funded projects.
A call to action like this in a sector that is suffering from low productivity, increased material costs and a severe skills shortage suggests that offsite is an obvious solution that has found its time to make a real impact in the sector.
Prefabrication offsite is hardly a new concept – the Romans and Egyptians used it – but it is delivering innovative solutions and impressive productivity savings in a sector that desperately needs to “modernise or die”.
The ability of offsite construction to improve start to completion timeframes by around 50% brings significant cost benefits. Smaller workforce requirements mean less pressure on skills and working in a controlled environment offsite improves safety.
Offsite projects outperform their onsite counterparts with an ability to enhance overall productivity. Where almost 50% of onsite construction projects fail to reliably predict completion dates, offsite predictability is almost 100% reliable.
So, with such strong government backing and favourable market conditions why aren’t more projects being delivered using offsite construction?
A House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology report in 2018 cites the way the construction sector operates as the main inhibitor. It recognises that greater collaboration is required between clients, designers and contractors from an early stage in a sector that is “fragmented and lacking in trust”.
The answer surely lies in a collaborative approach and a change in the current business and procurement models for large construction projects. The Select Committee recommended that government needs to work closer with the industry to bring about change and improvement but in an era of Brexit paralysis that is unlikely to happen quickly.
There is no doubt that we are about to witness a significant growth in offsite, but the jury is still out on exactly when the construction sector will get its act together for it to happen.