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Offsite held back by 'lack of trust', inquiry told

A House of Lords committee has been told more “trust” and “evidence” is needed to convince the construction industry to adopt offsite on a larger scale.

Giving evidence to the Lords science and technology committee inquiry into offsite construction, Greater London Authority assistant director Jamie Ratcliff said a culture of distrust was preventing wider uptake.

“The construction industry is really bad at partnerships and collaboration, people don’t trust each other,” he said.

“To make this work, you have to trust each other and work together at an early stage. You need to commit to it, depend on your partners and work with them at an early stage.

“For whatever reason culturally lots of people in construction find that very difficult.”

Willmott Dixon national building manager Tim Carey (pictured) agreed trust was an issue, but told the committee that evidence was also required to communicate offsite’s benefits.

“Effectively we’re asking a customer or end-user to make a different decision and elect to use offsite instead of the thing they know or may think is a better option,” Mr Carey said.

“We don’t collect enough output data on particular projects. It’s something we’re working on because if we’re asking them to take an informed decision they need to be informed.”

Several of those giving evidence sought to dispel misconceptions around the technology, with Mr Ratcliff attacking the idea that offsite methods used untested technologies.

“You’ll also hear lots of talk about innovative technologies not being ‘tried and tested.’ I just don’t buy that,” he said.

“It’s tried and tested ways of building homes: timber frame, which has been around for thousands of years; steel frame, which has been around for 150 years; and concrete frame, which has been around for 125 years. They are not massively innovative things.”

Mr Carey told the committee there were misunderstandings in terms of scale.

“While there are a number of larger suppliers and manufacturers, the majority of offsite manufacturing is still very much a cottage industry,” he said.

“It’s still men and women in sheds building stuff traditionally. A lot of the offsite manufacturers want to scale up, but they need certainty.”

Responding to a question about problems with quality, Mr Carey suggested this could be addressed through the use of more controlled environments, going on to point out construction’s unusual approach to assembly.

“Any other industry wouldn’t choose to construct something the way we do in construction,” he said.

“We wouldn’t build an aeroplane on the runway, would we.”

In the Autumn Budget the government announced that it would favour offsite manufacturing on all publicly funded construction projects from 2019

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