Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Call for new design code specific to modern methods of construction

Out-Law News | 07 Jul 2021 | 10:12 am | 2 min. read

The development of a new design code specific to modern methods of construction (MMC) would help ensure more environmentally friendly homes are built in the UK, experts in residential real estate have said.

Iain Gilbey of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the move would help establish a link between environmental standards around MMC and planning requirements for new homes.

Pinsent Masons recently partnered with Countryside Properties and NatWest to examine the barriers, challenges and opportunities arising from the planning process and funding where MMC is a key feature of residential development; and worked with MMC and ‘net zero’ specialists Project Etopia to examine how the challenges of meeting Britain’s climate change obligations have arguably become the greatest driver for change in the way in which we plan and meet Britain’s housing needs.

MMC is a general term used to describe a range of alternative off-site and on-site manufacturing techniques. There is a significant emerging market in MMC globally. As the housing and infrastructure construction sectors look to improve productivity and deliver on government infrastructure pledges while dealing with a lack of new entrants and an aging workforce, MMC is expected to become an increasingly important means of delivery.

Joseph Daniels

Chief executive, Project Etopia

MMC can be a powerful enabler of net zero housing, including achieving a huge reduction in embedded carbon in new housing

Joseph Daniels, founder and chief executive of Project Etopia, said: “MMC can be a powerful enabler of net zero housing, including achieving a huge reduction in embedded carbon in new housing”.

“Traditional construction materials can embed carbon in new housing during the construction process, whereas MMC will allow the use of innovative materials and processes, achieving less embedded carbon and much less waste,” he said.

Pinsent Masons’ Gilbey said that while MMC “can radically improve the delivery of high quality and affordable housing, provide measurable improvements in sustainability and circumvent a growing skills shortage as the UK economy bounces back strongly from a deep shock caused by the Covid-19 pandemic”, he acknowledged that there are some barriers to the acceleration in the use of MMC. These include a lack of understanding within local planning authorities and some developers about MMC, a myriad of different local authority planning requirements across the country to navigate, as well as challenges for MMC factories in accessing funding.

Louise Wager of Pinsent Masons said that one of the specific challenges those using MMC face is demonstrating to local planning officers how the low carbon products used can deliver environmental sustainability such as those provided for in the ‘future homes standard’ that is central to planning applications for net zero carbon homes. A new design code could be developed to address this issue, she said.

“One change that would make a big difference – at either a local or national level – would be a design code specifically for MMC so that some aspects of the aesthetics and the environmental gains could be seen as standard for certain types of housing in specific locations,” Wager said. “There might even be scope for MMC to have its own ‘permitted development’ right in some contexts. Both of these options would give funders and lenders certainty too.”

William Oliver of Pinsent Masons said that lenders are coming under increased scrutiny for the sustainability of their funding and investments – something which is already impacting the MMC market.

“Sustainability will increasingly be a crucial aspect of funding requirements, for example residential schemes requiring a minimum EPC B rating. This is not a ‘nice to have’ – this is now embedded in the market and requirements will only become more stringent,” he said.