Whitehall commissions new offsite standard


The government has commissioned the British Standards Institution (BSI) to develop a universally recognised standard for homes built using modern methods of construction (MMC).

MMC covers a wide range of techniques that aim to improve efficiency, including offsite manufacture – but there have been growing concerns that the safety implications of these are not well-understood, with chief fire officers issuing a long statement on the issue in December.

This week, the BSI is running working groups with 30 construction-industry representatives to inform the new guidance and share best practice – the first in a planned series of events.

The government will also invite key stakeholders to specialist advisory groups. It plans to launch a consultation on the proposals later this year.

The BSI will introduce the new requirements through a Publicly Available Specification. This will set out recommended technical standards for different MMC categories, as well as quality assurance and compliance processes.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said in a statement that reducing costs through the increased use of MMC will lead to more homes being built, and a recognised MMC standard would help increase choice and access to product warranties, insurance and mortgages.

Housing minister Lucy Frazer said: “We want to help homebuilding step into the future. This means embracing the latest technology to deliver more high-quality, energy-efficient homes for generations to come.

“Our work with the BSI and the wider industry will help to do just that – allowing more homebuilders to take up modern methods of construction, creating new jobs and homes across the country.”

BSI Knowledge Solutions head of built environment Anthony Burd said: “As society’s needs change and in light of the role all of us have to play on the road to net-zero, improving levels of building safety and ensuring better design – MMC will be key to meeting these future challenges.

“The standard will provide essential requirements and guidance for best practice in the residential building sector and much-needed assurance for the growing offsite sector.”

In December, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) set out a litany of issues about the construction industry’s increasing use of MMC in the post-Grenfell era. It said fire-service managers were particularly concerned about 3D modular volumetric construction and the use of engineered mass timber products.

The NFCC called for specific safety regulations and legislation relating to MMC, and for it to be specifically addressed in the Building Safety Act.

Gavin Tomlinson from the NFCC said the organisation was concerned that MMC buildings were “being designed, approved and built despite a lack of understanding about their performance”.

At the time, the government strongly rejected the claims. A spokesperson said: “Buildings must meet the safety and performance requirements in the building regulations no matter how they’re constructed or what materials are used.”

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