Can modular construction rebuild the UK’s high streets?
Why town planners should use modular construction for Towns Fund projects
In September 2020, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick, announced the first part of the £3.6 billion Towns Fund. Over 100 towns in England will be given up to £1 million to rejuvenate their centres. Town planners should use the money strategically to make as much of a positive impact on the area as possible. Here, Nick Cowley explores why modular construction should be part of this strategy.
The initial £80 million investment into the UK’s towns will be used for various projects, including pedestrianising streets, creating green spaces and redeveloping high street units. When rebuilding high streets, town planners should consider the increasingly popular methods of modular construction (MMC).
MMC involves manufacturing individual parts of a building in an offsite facility and transporting them to the site in a completed state. When building in busy areas like town centres, work needs to be carried out efficiently to achieve sustainable and durable results, with minimal disruption to residents. MMC offers planners a perfect solution to build back commercial areas thanks to its speed, safety and sustainability.
MMC can be carried out between 30 and 50 per cent quicker than traditional methods. By taking a manufacturing-style approach to construction, identical components can be made repeatedly in an automated factory environment. Typically, two eight-hour shifts are undertaken each day — more than would be achieved onsite — which increases output.
Once individual parts have been manufactured, the indoor construction process can begin. According to a 2019 report conducted by McKinsey & Company, a team of five workers can assemble up to six 3D modules per day. Module assembly can be carried out at the same time as the onsite foundation work, which adds to the speed of modular construction.
Fast completion is beneficial to town planners because it reduces the time that access to the developing area is limited. This allows planners to mitigate the impact of the project on residents, ensuring noise pollution and blockages on roads and footpaths are kept to a minimum.
Guaranteeing safety when using traditional building techniques can be complicated: numerous tradespeople need to be coordinated in a small construction area, in potentially harsh weather conditions.
In contrast, elements of a modular building such as electrics, plumbing and uPVC windows and doors can be fitted in a factory setting, improving control over the process. Safety requirements can be met with ease and weather conditions have no impact on the quality of construction. As construction workers complete the bulk of the project indoors, less time is spent in a potentially dangerous, open-air environment.
MMC also reduces the risk to the public because it moves around 80 per cent of construction offsite. This is particularly important in busy towns: the more potentially hazardous work that is done in a controlled offsite facility, the less of a danger the project is to the public.
Modular construction is more sustainable than traditional building methods because it requires less transportation. Entire modules are constructed in one location, which reduces deliveries by up to 90 per cent, lowering the industry’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The pre-fabricated approach to construction also allows for more thermally efficient builds. Constructing modules in a controlled environment allows workers to seal joints, install insulation and minimise thermal bridging more accurately, which can reduce operational costs by around 20 per cent.
Town planners can also select components that are certain to improve energy efficiency. Windows and doors are typically some of the biggest culprits of heat loss, so it’s important to work with a reliable manufacturer to deliver project success. Euramax offers a wide range of energy efficient uPVC windows and uPVC doors that come with a ten-year guarantee, which can be manufactured and fitted offsite, making them an ideal partner for energy efficient builds.
Rejuvenating town centres is key to driving local economic growth and maintaining a sense of community. Using MMC can help planners build quickly and safely without sacrificing sustainability, restoring their towns’ spark.