Offsite construction is “not silver bullet to London’s housing crisis” says FMB

Offsite manufacturing can only take us so far in terms of solving London’s housing crisis, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

In the London Assembly Planning Committee’s report: ‘Designed, sealed, delivered: The contribution of offsite manufactured homes to solving London’s housing crisis’, published on August 31, they say “The wide range of homes offsite [construction] now produces can meet London’s complex housing needs, in terms of the variety of demand and sites. Once delivered to site they can be up in a matter of days or weeks, a vital advantage given the acute scale of demand London faces.”

Commenting on the report, Barry Mortimer, director of FMB London, said: “In order to reach the 50,000 new homes London needs to build each year to keep pace with demand, an innovative approach to delivering new homes is crucial. A rise in offsite construction and modular homes could be part of the solution in terms of helping to increase diversity and supply in the UK new homes market. However, offsite manufactured homes will never be the ‘silver bullet’ to solving the housing crisis.

“One of the dangers of placing too much emphasis on one delivery method, the reach of which is likely to remain limited for the foreseeable future, is that we can take our eye off the more immediate problems. One of the purported benefits of offsite construction is that it requires fewer skilled workers to construct homes compared with more traditional housebuilding methods. But we cannot afford to become complacent about the serious shortage of on-site skills we need now. In the FMB’s State of Trade Survey for Q2 2017 it was revealed that 60% of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 57% are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners.

“As Britain prepares to leave the EU, the skills shortage will likely be felt more keenly still, especially so in London. New research from the FMB reveals that 70% of SME house builders in London and the South-East hire EU workers. In looking to the future and new sources of supply, we must not take our eye off the ball in terms of the tackling the immediate constraints on our capacity, chief amongst these now being the shortage of traditional on-site trades and the potential impact of post-Brexit immigration changes.”