As this issue goes to press and attention turns to budget and election matters, it will be disappointing to some that the government’s 2019 Budget was light on policies designed to foster housing affordability; there was an increase in funds for social housing, but it remains to be seen how this commitment will play out. The extent to which government can and should intervene in the housing market has the potential for exerting direct influence on the offsite construction sector and our feature starting on page 15 surveys governments’ varying efforts globally in terms of driving uptake. In Australia, recent developments in the schools sector, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales, have created a nascent pipeline enabling offsite players to scale up to meet demand, with the resulting skills, scale and expertise now offering some potential for deployment in the housing market. Elsewhere in the world, the governments of New Zealand, Singapore and the UK are identifying ambitious plans that will directly or indirectly stimulate offsite construction.
Arguably government commitment is part of a larger equation. This issue, our coverage of the prefabAUS Developers’ breakfast (page 23), along with the sixth edition of the Built Offsite Forum series (page 29) demonstrate the extent to which the development and real estate sectors are also propelling the industry forward. For some, operating at the high end of the market, embedded program frameworks and concerns over the perception of prefab remain legitimate concerns, while for others an acceptance of the need to spearhead innovation is apparent.
Certainly bold trail blazers are an important driver in a multi-pronged approach where, in an ideal world, government responds effectively to innovation with pipeline. As one thought leader told Built Offsite “Industry has to lead the discussion in this space. Ultimately we want government to come running to us”
Managing Editor Built Offsite
In this edition we explore government engagement with offsite construction. While government is involved in the construction industry at the regulatory and enforcement levels, it is as client – often as developer, owner and operator of the built form asset – where direct interaction can occur.
This is a mighty and untapped avenue for bringing about meaningful change. In Australia, sizeable modular delivery programs have been established for government sector schools and prisons in NSW and schools in Victoria. Isolated government programs without broader industry development initiatives can potentially ‘squeeze out’ private sector projects in the short term, since the appeal of faster project delivery via offsite construction wanes if the effective start date sits behind a backlog of other orders.
Housing New Zealand, the country’s largest housing developer, has a program underway to deliver government housing through pilot projects adopting different construction technologies and delivery methods, including cross laminated timber (CLT) and timber framed panel systems. Farther afield, the Factory_OS and the City of San Francisco are tackling homelessness with a 102 modular studio apartment project.
Meanwhile, the UK government has taken direct action. Inaugurated with the ‘Modernise or die’ report on the future of the UK construction industry by Mark Farmer (International Keynote speaker at the 2017 prefabAUS conference in 2017) an offsite procurement program has been devised for infrastructure projects. Now the task is to tackle the housing sector. Government has to use the more limited tools in its armoury “to drive better outcomes across all housing tenures.” And all this while the UK seeks to navigate its way through ‘Brexit’. These issues will no doubt be front and centre as this year’s prefabAUS study tour heads to the UK.■