One of the most common discussions in the Australian offsite sector is around how projects are financed. Lenders’ uncertainty around a new methodology of construction is a key sticking point for driving the growth of the sector, leading to a Catch-22 scenario in which uptake has been slow, the idea of offsite has remained niche and abstract, and lenders have remained wary.
The UK market has engendered something of a circuit breaker and a solution to the problem in the form of the Buildoffsite Property Assurance Scheme (BOPAS).
BOPAS provides assurance to lenders that innovatively constructed properties against which they may be lending, will deliver a consistent performance over a period of at least 60 years.
Jointly developed by UK offsite body Buildoffsite, The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Lloyd’s Register and BLP Insurance in consultation with the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) and the Building Societies Association (BSA), it provides assurance to the UK’s lending community and has helped drive the growth of the UK’s offsite sector.
Lenders involved in the process included well known UK financial brands Lloyds TSB Group (including HBOS); Nationwide; RBS and Santander.
With a significant number of construction players now either BOPAS accredited or in the process of accreditation, 3D structural module specialist Vision Modular Systems is one supporter of the scheme.
“Vision Modular Systems strongly supports the BOPAS accreditation for the offsite sector as a means of measuring a product provider’s stage of development and as a means of giving additional confidence to our clients when they work with us,” says Director Kieran White.
“Vision Modular Systems strongly supports the BOPAS accreditation for the offsite sector as a means of measuring a product provider’s stage of development and as a means of giving additional confidence to our clients when they work with us.” Vision Modular Systems Director Kieran White.
There are three elements to BOPAS: the process accreditation by Lloyd’s Register; the durability and maintenance assessment by BLP Insurance; and a web enabled database comprising details of assessed building systems, registered sites and registered/ warranted properties.
Lloyd’s Register evaluates offsite organisations against best practice in terms of competency management, configuration management, procurement management and process control.
BLP Insurance works with a team of architects, engineers and building surveyors to assess the durability of a system for a minimum 60 year lifespan for structural components and where shorter life components are identified, expected service lives are stated including relevant maintenance requirements.
BLP Director of Technical Consultancy Jeff Maxted confirms the scheme came into being in the UK around a decade ago. “Offsite construction has been around for many years, but around 10 years ago it reached a point where there was enough of it to take notice,” he says, adding that the scheme underwent three pilots with three manufacturers from 2009 to 2012: one steel frame and two timber frame, with lenders and valuers involved in the process.
With around 225,000 to 275,000 new houses needed per annum in the UK to keep up with population growth, demand remains at a high and the scheme is gaining impetus.
“In the first four years interest was quite slow but in the last two and a half years it has really been picking up,” he says. “Many traditional home builders are looking at new systems such as offsite. Around 20 manufacturers are now BOPAS accredited, around 24 are undergoing the process and between 60 and 100 are in the pipeline. We signed up seven in January alone. Momentum is definitely building.”
“Many traditional home builders are looking at new systems such as offsite. Around 20 manufacturers are now BOPAS accredited, around 34 are undergoing the process and between 60 and 100 are in the pipeline. We signed up seven in January alone. Momentum is definitely building.” Jeff Maxted, BLP Director of Technical Consultancy.
BLP Business Development Executive Samantha Ferneley says the accreditation process usually takes around two or three months, “although it can take two to three years depending on the resources at the company’s disposal.”
The growth in the private rented sector or build to rent sector is also spurring interest in offsite construction and in turn BOPAS. As demand for affordable housing continues to rise and Brexit looms, threatening further erosion of a skilled trades workforce – over 50 per cent of whom hail from overseas – interest around BOPAS continues to build. And, as the scheme matures, the approach to accreditation is becoming more streamlined, Ferneley confirms.
“Lenders are increasingly starting to ask us to look at projects pre-accreditation. That means they can smooth out any glitches from the inception of the project.” Samantha Ferneley, BLP Business Development Executive.
The scheme is not without challenges, says Maxted. “One is the fact that a product designed overseas doesn’t necessarily meet UK regulations. For example, different markets have different approaches to things like thermal bridging. Another example is in the Netherlands, where staircase angles are much taller and steeper.”
Overall however, BOPAS is operating effectively, a point endorsed by the fact that most lenders now insist on BOPAS accreditation, he says.
“A recent example is Essential Living, which appointed Elements Europe to provide a modular solution for the Creekside Wharf scheme in Greenwich. BOPAS accreditation was a pre-requisite for embarking on the scheme.” ■