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MMC to be at heart of social house building

Factory-made housing should be at the heart of affordable housing supply in Wales, says housing minister Julie James.

Welsh Government wants local authorities to build far more council homes at scale and pace but says they face the same capacity constraints as traditional house builders.

Launching a new strategy to kick-start modern methods of construction (MMC), the minister said they would help councils build better quality homes faster to meet the growing need for affordable homes across the country.

However, the strategy is about much more than housing, with ministers seeing opportunities to bring significant new benefits to the Welsh economy.

Reimagining social house building in Wales  includes plans to use national assets such as Welsh timber and steel, develop skills in communities hardest hit by the decline of traditional industry and a training programme to teach new skills to people leaving prison.

And it seen as a key part of Welsh Government’s ambitions to reduce carbon emissions from housing and move to a circular economy by reducing construction waste by up to 90 per cent.

The strategy sets out an incremental approach to MMC, starting with the panelised systems that are most widespread at the moment and moving towards the most efficient, volumetric methods.

Ministers are also making a major £45 million investment in the modular housing industry in Wales.

Some £20 million is being made available for MMC businesses to help and encourage the market, especially SMEs, to develop off-site manufacture (OSM) solutions such as supply chains, factories and skills development centress.

A further £25 million is being made available for round 4 of the Welsh Government’s Innovative Housing Programme, which will focus on innovative housing delivered through MMC.

The housing minister saw MMC in action on a visit on Tuesday to SO Modular in Neath, which already supplies the social housing market in Wales.

Julie James said:

‘Building more social and affordable homes is a key priority for the Welsh Government. Over the last four years, this Welsh Government has invested £2 billion in new housing across Wales, as part of our ambition to deliver 20,000 affordable homes by 2021.

‘But we want to build more. And we want to build better. The significant investment we’re making in the modular housing industry will enable us to do that.’

And she made the wider ambitions clear in a statement to the Senedd:

‘MMC opportunities go beyond house building. The strategy supports our ambitions to move to a circular economy, as building with MMC could reduce construction waste by as much as 70 to 90 per cent. Reducing emissions from the housing sector is a key element of our climate change emergency mitigation.

‘We are exploring how best to identify the new skills required to accommodate greater use of MMC, which represents a sea change in the construction industry. We need to ensure that the existing construction workforce is upskilled to meet our ambitions, attract new and diverse entrants and marginalised groups such as offenders, to explore employment and training opportunities.’

‘Our plans provide real opportunity for Welsh MMC producers, many of which are SMEs and family-run, supporting Welsh businesses in finding a home-grown solution and strengthening Welsh suppliers.’

Bethan Proctor, policy and external affairs manager at Community Housing Cymru, responded:

“We welcome today’s commitment from the Welsh Housing Minister to invest £45m in the modular housing industry, in response to the review of affordable housing we called for in 2017. Modern methods of construction (MMC) promotes the building of good quality, low carbon, affordable housing at pace and scale and with housing associations committed to building 75,000 new homes by 2036, today’s announcement will help make this a reality.

‘We’re really pleased to see this strategy also focus on sustaining the foundational economy in Wales by creating local jobs and using local materials. There is already an appetite in the social sector to use MMC, and the Welsh Government’s strategy and investment will open the doors for many more to develop off-site manufacture approaches, helping to build healthier, decarbonised homes, tackling the housing and climate crisis.’

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