Government urged to spearhead adoption of rapid-build, modular housing

Report says prefabricated designs could play major role in solving Ireland’s housing crisis

The Government should spearhead the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) or off-site construction through its direct build social housing programme, a new report has recommended.

The study by economic and social think tank Tasc and the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) said standardised and prefabricated design technologies could play a big role in solving Ireland’s housing crisis as well as meeting the State’s climate objectives as they produced homes “more quickly and more sustainably”.

MMC is an umbrella term for a range of new and innovative construction techniques but generally refers to construction that takes place in a factory setting rather than on-site. Modular housing is the most common example.

One of the main challenges for the emerging industry is the sporadic and often volatile nature of demand as illustrated by a number of high-profile business collapses in the UK. Insurance giant Legal & General was recently forced to halt production on its loss-making modular housing factory near Leeds after investing £182 million (€213 million) in the business.


Tasc and CIOB’s report highlights the “stability of demand” as a key issue, recommending the State, through the direct building of social homes, shore up demand.

“Though direct building is slow and expensive, it has the advantage that the State exerts control over the design and construction process,” the report said. “This can be used to drive MMC both to improve the delivery of social housing and also drive the sector forward,” it said.

The report also recommended a review of the current height restrictions on the use of combustible materials such as timber. Timber frames are used in 24-48 per cent of new-build homes and meet the MMC definition as they can be fabricated off-site and are considerably more sustainable than concrete as timber absorbs carbon from the atmosphere.

The report also supported the idea of linking taxation on concrete and other carbon-intensive materials to their “embodied carbon content”. The high prevalence of one-off housing in Ireland was also highlighted as a potential barrier to the adoption of MMC here.

Several experts at the launch cautioned that while the greater use of MMC could enhance speed of delivery and sustainability, the cost benefits were less obvious and had been perhaps exaggerated.

The report’s author, Robert Sweeney, said MMC “may still make sense if time or quality is of the essence in a project”. However, he noted that the enhanced supply potential of the technologies may eventually result in lower prices for end users.

Home builder Glenveagh has been investing in MMC technologies and recently announced plans for the big timber frame production plant in Co Kildare.

The Department of Housing said recently that MMC technologies would be used to deliver about 1,800 social homes over the next two years.

As part of Housing for All update last year, it published a “roadmap for increased adoption of modern methods of construction in public housing delivery”. The department believes design-built modern methods of construction techniques can reduce delivery times on typical social housing projects from 18 to 12 months, resulting in significant cost savings.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times