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Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction

Transforming infrastructure through smarter information

A new House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report titled 'Off-site Manufacture for construction: building for change' recommends off-site manufacturing (OSM) to help to increase productivity in the construction sector in order to meet pressing housing and infrastructure needs. The report sets out actions required to enable the sector to effectively implement OSM in construction.


Image: Professor Lord Robert Mair, Head of CSIC and President of ICE, at the launch of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report titled 'Off-site Manufacture for construction: building for change'.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, of which Professor Lord Mair, Head of CSIC and President of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a member, supports the use of off-site manufacturing (OSM) to reduce labour demands, improve the quality and efficiency of buildings, and decrease the environmental impacts associated with traditional construction.

The report, published last week (19 July), and launched at ICE London HQ on Great George Street, warns that the construction sector as it currently operates cannot meet the UK’s need for housing and may struggle to address the need for infrastructure. Highlighting the current lag in productivity and labour shortage, the report urges the Government and the construction sector to urgently find solutions.

Despite delivering a range of benefits, take up of OSM is varied and somewhat limited across the sector due to a continued reliance on outdated and unsustainable business models that are not conducive to OSM for construction. The report, which found the construction industry too fragmented to implement widespread off-site manufacturing which requires early collaboration between clients, designers and contractors, states: “Much of the evidence the Committee received painted a picture of a construction sector that is fragmented and lacking in trust. These barriers must be addressed by the sector itself and strong leadership is needed from the Construction Leadership Council.”

Acknowledging that OSM could help to lessen the skills shortage, the report warned that the different skills required for manufacturing are currently lacking and need to be developed and that the Government must ensure young people entering the workplace are equipped with the digital skills needed for modern methods of construction.

The Science and Technology Committee welcomed the Government’s 'presumption in favour' of OSM as stated in the Construction Sector Deal  (July 2018) and additional initiatives for the construction sector that show a strong commitment to investing in this area. The Committee recommends that the Government develop and publish a series of Key Performance Indicators against which the success of the ‘presumption in favour’ can be assessed: “Where the presumption in favour is set aside and a project goes ahead that does not use off-site manufacture, the Government should publish a statement explaining why it has not been used and justifying that decision.”

The Committee heard evidence that if the Government is to achieve its aim of building 300,000 houses a year by 2020, OSM would be the only way to meet this target, and that traditional construction methods do not have the capacity to build enough homes. “There are clear and tangible benefits from off-site manufacture for construction which make a compelling case for its widespread use. We heard evidence that OSM could increase productivity in the sector by up to 70 per cent."

The report describes the role of the Government and the wider public sector as “pivotal in a move to greater use of off-site manufacture” and sets out actions that the Committee thinks the Government should take including implementation of the Construction Sector Deal, committed execution of the ‘presumption in favour’ of off-site manufacture and a greater move to procuring for whole-life value rather than lowest cost.


Read the House of Lords’ report here.

Read the ICE response to publication of the report.