Is MMC the real deal?

David McCallion discusses how modern methods of construction supported phase one of the Perry Barr Residential Scheme and offered time and cost certainty.

Birmingham City Council’s regeneration of Perry Barr has already seen new homes built and significant improvements in leisure, transport and infrastructure.

The council put new housing at the heart of the area’s regeneration, which was accelerated by investment secured to host the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. It kicked off with significant new housing provision in Perry Barr – totalling 968 homes. Lendlease was commissioned as principal contractor for phase one of the PBRS, valued at £326m.

We worked closely with the council to understand what they wanted to achieve and when – which led to us proposing an MMC solution for our two plots 8 & 9 and the council accepting.

Confidence and quality through MMC

At a time when external factors, particularly Brexit, were wreaking havoc on materials and resources, delivering the new homes using only traditional building techniques was far too great a risk, particularly in a heated Midlands market and with the scale of other works planned in Perry Barr simultaneously.

The council has historically used a more traditional construction approach, so we worked to address their concerns about using a new method for such a landmark project.

We reinforced MMC’s ability to deliver assured quality and meet programme expectations, boosting the council’s confidence in overcoming time and budget constraints. Another key benefit was waste reduction; our plots delivered only 10% of the waste and were 50% more efficient when compared to a local traditionally-built development of similar scale.

As a result, our plots eight and nine showcased the possibilities of such an approach and the added value provided by MMC. This led to us becoming the only contractor from the three appointed to utilise these techniques at such scale on the scheme.

How MMC sped up construction delivery on plots eight and nine

Plots eight and nine include 430 one- and two-bedroom apartments in four and six-storey blocks – built for sale and affordable rent.

We incorporated MMC elements such as light gauge steel frame, brick slip façades, pre-manufactured balconies and balustrades, and almost 700 bathroom pods. The steel-framed panel system required 25 people on site to assemble, compared to 160 for an equivalent-sized concrete frame traditional build. No scaffolding was required due to the use of a mechanically fixed, brick slip facade – improving safety, eliminating temporary works and providing an 80% reduction in cement, one of the worst materials for embodied carbon.

The bathroom pods were manufactured offsite in a factory – this generated greater quality assurance, which was reflected in the levels of quality – there were almost no issues compared to the typical build-and-fit approach. It also enabled prices to be fixed early on, providing greater cost certainty. The ability to install between 15 and 20 complete bathrooms per day increased time efficiency by 30%, whilst reducing trades and people on site, with their associated vehicle movements and deliveries. Reducing the number of people working in close proximity was a key benefit in an unforeseen Covid world.

When the pandemic hit, the flexibility of MMC enabled us to pivot and implement changes in standard working practices without impacting on programme – something that could have significantly impacted logistics and timing for a traditional build. This included re-sequencing the steel frame structure process to allow for social distancing, reviewing products and materials to avoid those with national shortages and pre-manufacturing the bathroom pods and taking legal ownership of them (vesting) to ensure no delays – an eventuality that would have been faced when Covid made material supply challenging.

Despite Covid, which disrupted many a project programme, combining these MMC elements enabled us to complete our plots six weeks early and hand over nine months ahead of the traditionally-built plots. Given the other plots on the scheme were of similar scale, it offered a unique opportunity to directly compare MMC’s pace of completion with traditional building methods – with MMC proving faster and to a very high-quality mark.

The use of MMC helped us combat a limited specialist labour pool during a period of market turbulence, which was already stretched due to simultaneous building projects underway in the local vicinity.

Is MMC the real deal?

PBRS proves that MMC can help the public sector with common delivery problems, such as programme certainty, whole-life cost and resource efficiency, and still secure a quality product at an affordable price.

However, another incredibly important benefit; the new Building Safety Act. When it comes to life safety, adopting MMC alongside digital technologies makes it much easier to check and record the positioning of key safety features, such as fire-stopping barriers, against the design. Rather than the variability of traditional trades, MMC provides the opportunity to check and log the position of barriers, which can also be evidenced photographically, giving peace of mind to all involved. On a more traditional build this is trickier to achieve.

With so many benefits, the council is now looking at how it can use MMC in other areas, such as low-rise housebuilding and commercial spaces.

The approach for plots eight and nine has attracted continued attention. Impressed by the result at the PBRS, Cross Keys Homes, the developer behind the 315-apartment Indigo project in Peterborough, has commissioned us to deliver another MMC-driven high-rise residential scheme.

The first phase of PBRS remains a cornerstone of Perry Barr’s regeneration. It provides valuable lessons learnt that will inform future phases of the 'Perry Barr 2040: A Vision for Legacy' masterplan. It offers a valuable example showcasing to other public sector organisations how they can receive high-quality projects on time and on budget through MMC.

Want to understand how MMC could unlock your scheme?

We are now running workshops for customers and potential customers using the wealth of data, learnings and information from this scheme to help them to understand real-world MMC costs. These insights are helping to unlock schemes by demonstrating where added value lies.

Click here to request a MMC workshop.