Modern Methods of Construction

How are Homes England’s developer partners at the Northern Arc prioritising sustainability as they build new homes?

Sustainability is playing an increasingly important role in all of our lives. Whether that’s through the use of smart energy metres, the transport we use every day, or the goods we buy from the supermarket, taking the ‘green’ approach isn’t just of benefit to the world around us – it boosts our physical and mental wellbeing on an individual level too. Like many other sectors, the construction industry is increasingly making sustainable, efficient choices. Homes England are making sure that developer partners across all its projects are future-focussed in their design and build techniques and the Northern Arc is no exception.

Countryside Properties, the first house builder to join the Northern Arc, are employing a range of modern methods of construction (MMC) techniques. This will not just minimise the developer’s carbon footprint on site but also means the homes they build will be more energy efficient. The people who live in those homes for generations to come will be able do so in an energy efficient, sustainable and cost-effective manner.

Countryside properties are using sustainable methods of construction at the Northern Arc - Burgess Hill
Countryside properties are using sustainable methods of construction at the Northern Arc

So, just what is sustainable construction? Picture a house being built. You might imagine bricks, cement, cranes and hard hats – and you’d be right to think of those things. But as the construction industry moves to ensure its work is as green as possible, modern methods of construction are coming to the fore. The term can refer to any number of things. Modular buildings constructed in a factory, pre-cast concrete foundations and the use of timber frames all fall under the term modern methods of construction.

Each of them allows for high-quality, energy efficient housing to be delivered at speed – a crucial factor when you consider the need for increased housing provision across the UK. In 2017, the Government set the housebuilding industry a target of building 300,000 homes per year by the mid-2020s. In order for that target to be reached, spokespeople from within government and the housebuilding industry all agree that modern methods of construction will play a critical role.

Ready-made foundations, walls, roofs and even entire rooms can be constructed entirely in a factory, before being transported to their end destination for assembly and installation. This process can be completed in a matter of hours. The use of MMC techniques allows for housebuilding to take place at speed with no compromise on quality, meaning it will play a vital role in the construction of houses across the country in future years.

A  pre-made timber roof is lifted into place - Burgess Hill
A pre-made timber roof is lifted into place
An image inside the Stewart Milne factory - Burgess Hill
An image inside the Stewart Milne factory

Countryside Properties are making great progress at the Oakhurst/Freeks Farm site at the Northern Arc, with the first residents due to move into their homes in spring 2022. Countryside’s work has been aided by their use of timber in structural frames for homes. These timber frames, which are initially constructed off site and then transported to the Northern Arc, are used to support internal and external walls in each of the homes they build.

The use of timber frames also provides Countryside with a great deal of flexibility for both the size, layout and final appearance of each property. Once on site, the timber frames, which are made using renewable materials, are clad in brickwork for the external structure, or other materials for internal structures.

Countryside Properties are using timber frames constructed by specialists at Stewart Milne Timber Systems. Antony Iren, Senior Development Manager at Countryside Properties, recently visited their factory in Witney. “I’ve seen timber frames on site at the Northern Arc, but to visit the factory really brings home what an innovative tool this is. For a business such as Countryside, making the most of these new construction techniques brings lots of benefits. We’re using renewable materials and they give us flexibility in the building process, enabling us to build quickly on site without having to compromise on quality at all. I’ve no doubt that these sorts of innovations will benefit both housebuilders and the people who will live in the homes we build.”

Simon Horn, the Technical Manager for Stewart Milne, spoke about carbon savings and the long term sustainability benefits of pre-made timber construction methods: “Life cycle studies of timber frame homes show that they significantly outperform alternatives - timber saves about 40% of carbon emissions in comparison to concrete and about 30% compared to steel. According to the Committee on Climate Change, using wood in construction instead of high-carbon materials such as cement and steel is one of the most effective ways to use limited biomass resources to mitigate climate change.

Countryside Properties and other Homes England developer partners will continue to use industry leading Modern Methods of Construction at the Northern Arc to ensure we’re building sustainable homes for a sustainable community.

Homes England staff visit the Stewart Milne Timber Systems factory in 2019 - Burgess Hill
Homes England staff visit the Stewart Milne Timber Systems factory in 2019
One of the Countryside Properties apartment blocks at the Oakhurst/ Freeks Farm site at the Northern Arc - Burgess Hill
One of the Countryside Properties apartment blocks at the Oakhurst/ Freeks Farm site at the Northern Arc