"Modern Methods of Construction", and its abbreviation "MMC", are increasingly often talked about when discussing innovation and efficiency in the construction industry. There is no fixed definition of MMC but, as indicated by the words "modern methods of construction" themselves, they encompass a wide range of new ways of designing and building construction projects faster, better, with reduced waste and greater efficiency.

The most common uses of MMC relate to offsite construction – from sub-assemblies and components to panelised systems (eg steel or timber frames) and volumetric construction where fully formed modules are created in a factory and then brought to site for final assembly. The appeal of being sheltered from the British weather at this particular time of year is obvious and can have significant time and cost benefits to a project.

With severe demands on the residential construction sector, a widening skills gap and a weakening pound, the Government made a pledge to support MMC in its Autumn Budget of 2017, when it said:

"The government is taking a series of steps to improve the cost effectiveness, productivity and timeliness of infrastructure delivery. The government will use its purchasing power to drive adoption of modern methods of construction, such as offsite manufacturing. Building on progress made to date, the Department for Transport, the Department of Health, the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Defence will adopt a presumption in favour of offsite construction by 2019 across suitable capital programmes, where it represents best value for money".

The election promises

So, with the promise of investment in many sectors, we asked ourselves "What do the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos for the December 2019 General Election say about MMC?"

The answer is…not that much :

  • the Conservatives say they will "support modern methods of construction" (in the context of homebuilding), they will "encourage innovative design and technology to make housing more affordable, accessible, and suitable for disabled people and an ageing population" and that "automation and computing will change how businesses function…this requires a dramatic rebooting of our training system".
  • Labour says it will "set out a strategy for a flourishing construction sector with a skilled workforce and full rights at work" (in the context of homebuilding also), "create a National Investment Bank, backed up by a network of Regional Development Banks, to provide £250 billion of lending for enterprise, infrastructure and innovation over 10 years", and introduce "a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces".
  • the Liberal Democrats say they will "support innovation, with a goal of doubling innovation spending across the economy", "reform building standards to ensure that all new homes built from 2022…are designed to enable the use of smart technologies", "enable people whose jobs are affected by automation to gain new skills and retrain", and "ensure that new technologies are used in ethical and responsible ways" (giving examples of they how they will do this). (They also say they will introduce "requirements for the greater use of sustainably harvested wood in construction").

Further thoughts

The Conservative manifesto did expressly refer to MMC, but only briefly and with no detail – while the Labour and Liberal Democrat Manifestos mentioned policies around MMC (to a greater or lesser degree) but did not expressly refer to MMC.

Nevertheless, all have recognised that "innovation" is key, but that innovation and automation will result in a change in training needs.

It is also worth noting that the Government's Construction Sector Deal Policy Paper (last updated in July 2019) identified the Construction sector as having an "an important role to play in achieving the vision set out in our Industrial Strategy", and says:

"The construction sector, encompassing contracting, product manufacturing and professional services, had a turnover of around £370 billion in 2016, adding £138 billion in value to the UK economy – 9% of the total – and exported over £8 billion of products and services".

So in light of the importance of the construction sector, and the "presumption in favour of offsite construction" referred to above, while more could have been said about MMC in the manifestos, the momentum behind MMC is likely to continue and the construction industry is likely to continue to innovate, develop software, invest in smart technology and itself become smarter.

Ian Atkinson, head of our MMC practice and a Partner in our Construction and Engineering team, says:

"We have seen a number of projects delivered this year demonstrating the benefits of MMC. It feels like momentum is starting to build and, though the pledges from each of the main parties are welcome, they are vague. Continued investment in apprenticeships is essential and has been promised but I would like to see further support to SME's such that they can access and invest in new technology and larger production plants. Though it sounds dramatic, I agree with Mark Farmer – we must Modernise or Die."

You can read more about MMC here.