Pat Willoughby presented a report which provided an update on work to date on the Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) programme in the West Midlands and the next steps to December 2019. Additionally, the report proposed some immediate actions to accelerate the uptake of MMC in the West Midlands, including the adoption of a new regional MMC definition and target. With reference to paragraphs 3.4, 3.6 and 3.7, Gareth Bradford advised that MMC was supported already under the SCF but that it was proposed to test whether the impact on viability and pace of delivery would be affected unduly if it was included as a pre-qualification requirement initially on larger sites of 200+ units.
Councillor Joanne Hadley advised that Sandwell MBC had investigated the use of MMC but that it had proven more expensive than traditional methods of construction. She suggested that expertise and experience outside the West Midlands region also needed to be considered. She also referred to the recent increase in the price of steel which had had an adverse effect on the costs of MMC.
Councillor Ian Courts commented that modular construction was not a new concept but that it was the economics of MMC that tended to be problematical. At present, the construction of housing units was based on traditional construction methods which were a known entity. There was benefit in going as far as possible in requiring MMC on future development sites and he referred to the need for safety to be paramount when MMC was used together with the use of environmentally friendly materials, energy efficiency and that innovative methods of construction and working should be encouraged. Gareth Bradford advised that currently only MMC categories 1 and 2 were being considered as a pre-qualification requirement.
Councillor Peter Butlin reported that MMC was very common in both Germany and Scandinavia but that those factories producing modular units required a high throughput which brought unit costs down. He advised that modular units built off site were often off a higher build quality to traditional methods and construction was not subject to prevailing weather conditions. It was also possible to use modern materials and they presented an opportunity to lower the carbon footprint which was not possible with traditional construction methods which required the delivery of raw materials to the construction site. Gareth Bradford acknowledged these points and confirmed that this was the intention of moving to greater use of MMC.
Sarah Middleton suggested that any initiatives for greater use of MMC be cross referenced to the construction element of the WM5G workstream. She also referred to the intention for pre-qualification being confined to larger sites of 200+ units and questioned this given that the majority of the land supply in the Black Country area would be through small sites. She asked whether this would lead to less investment in such small sites. Gareth Bradford advised that MMC was encouraged on sites of all sizes albeit that the intention was for it to be a pre-qualification at this stage only on large sites. He undertook to explore the evidence base for extending this criteria to medium and small sites as part of the testing process.
Councillor Julie Jackson reported that Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council had used MMC for the provision of new council homes for some considerable time and commented on the expeditious construction of such dwellings. She drew to the attention of the Board the delays which were encountered, however, with securing utility connections which often left units uninhabitable. Gareth Bradford accepted this was a broader issue which required attention. Councillor Ian Courts enquired whether this would include Broadband connectivity. Gareth Bradford confirmed that such connectivity would be required and requested authority to amend the SCF to reflect this issue.
Bill Blincoe questioned whether outputs were being measured across the region. Gareth Bradford confirmed that the monitoring and evaluation was required under the terms of the Housing Deal and was part of the drive to increase delivery. He suggested that reports on monitoring and evaluation could be submitted to future meetings of this Board. Councillor David Wright commented that an analysis of market competitiveness was also required to ensure that the market was being broadened. Gareth Bradford referred to the recent commissioned partnership with Lovell Homes which had resulted in the generation of a number of further enquiries from developers. This was likely to drive a change in the market. He reminded the Board that the WMCA would only intervene where there was a case of market failure as set out in the SCF .
The Chair commented that Walsall MBC had a lot of experience with MMC with two factories being located within the Borough. He commended the units for their energy efficiency and also that construction was not limited due to inclement weather.
1. That the progress in developing a vision, routemap and strategy for Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) be noted;
2. That the intention to seek additional technical and industry expertise to support this agenda through:
i) The appointment of a dedicated MMC Programme Manager; and
ii) The creation of an MMC Expert Advisory Panel
3. That the proposal to be an early adopter of MHCLG’s MMC definition framework in the West Midlands be approved;
4. That subject to the above, the proposal to move towards a pre-qualification requirement for use of MMC categories 1 and 2 in new developments that were coming forward through the SCF be approved;
5. That the extension of the pre-qualification to all sites be explored;
6. That the SCF be revised further to require the inclusion of broadband connectivity;
7. That the difficulties in ensuring early utility connections for MMC units be addressed;
8. That monitoring and evaluation reports together with an analysis of market competitiveness be presented to future meetings of this Board.