How we’re delivering with Building Better – Platform Housing Group

Building Better members are already using the MMC Category 2 dynamic purchasing system to build offsite homes. Find out more about their schemes and the costs involved.

Platform Housing Group

Platform Housing is the largest housing association in the Midlands and one of the biggest in the country, owning and managing 46,000 homes. In line with their vision to ‘make a difference by enabling better lives through building better homes’, they have built more social and affordable homes in England than any other social housing provider over the last two years.

We spoke to Katie Gilmartin, head of business development & innovation at Platform Housing Group about how they are delivering through the Building Better DPS.

What are your development targets?

As a strategic partner for Homes England, we’ve committed to delivering one quarter of our programme via modern methods of construction (MMC) – that equates to 585 Category 1 and 2 homes every year.

What’s it been like to use the dynamic purchasing system (DPS)?

We started by breaking the cardinal rule of MMC! We brought a site to manufacturers that already had detailed planning. We’d purchased the site in Leicestershire complete with approval to demolish 18 flats and bungalows and build 38 new 1,2 and 3 bed affordable homes. 

It had been a tricky time getting the scheme ready to tender, Platform, the local authority, and the local community were all keen we moved quickly, MMC – and Building Better – was an obvious choice for delivery.

Because we had detailed plans, it meant that MMC Category 2 was better than Category 1 as we were asking manufacturers to reverse engineer our drawings. We also needed the homes to be turn-key – a complete end-to-end solution.

Building Better were really supportive with our requirements. Their MMC Category 2 DPS is broken down into lots so you can choose turn-key or the system only. That meant we could quickly narrow down manufacturers. We also had one initial question: ‘these are our drawings; can you get your system to deliver?’ So, really fast we got a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If everyone said ‘no’ then our plan was to move to traditional.

But three said ‘yes’ and that meant we could go to our next step: asking how their timings compared with traditional.

We were confident each of the manufacturers could get us on site sooner than traditional and one was particularly flexible and willing to change their order book and manufacturing programme to accommodate our timeline.

They sent through indicative costs and that brought us to our third decision making step: will it cost a lot more than traditional? The answer was no – lower indicative MMC costs were in line with traditional.

How has Building Better helped with the procurement process?

The team at PfH, Building Better’s procurement partner, have been amazing. I can’t rate them highly enough! They managed relationships and briefed manufacturers incredibly well to speed up the procurement process.

I was doing a lot of work upfront and wanted to know I was compliant. I needed assurance that what I was doing was the right course of action and PfH gave me that – they were available to advise whenever I needed them. We got a level of procurement resource I can’t imagine we’d get anywhere else, and this is coming from Building Better and PfH, organisations that genuinely care about making MMC work.

What happened next?

Unfortunately, despite this really positive process, we came across some very costly complications in the ground which meant we weren’t able to make this scheme work. It’s a legacy site and has thrown up a number of groundwork issues.

What learnings have you taken from this experience?

A lot! So much about the process was brilliant and although we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, the experience will inform and steer Platform’s MMC work going forward. The main learnings were:

  1. Choose your sites wisely: I always say that a garage site – already burdened by additional costs and complications – is not the one to pilot MMC on. We learned the same of our site. We were prepared to pay more for a high quality, Net Zero MMC scheme and as a Homes England Strategic Partner, the additional grant for delivering using MMC is key to making schemes like this possible.

    Unfortunately, due to the planned demolition of existing bungalows, we were faced with the additionality challenge – where grant wouldn’t apply to the number of homes we’d replaced. This, in addition to the higher than anticipated costs in the ground meant ultimately, we couldn’t make this scheme viable.

  2. Engage with the manufacturers in good faith and in detail: We got the heads up on the challenges in the ground from manufacturers. We knew we had relationships based on trust and although we couldn’t afford the groundworks, these partners could have overcome the issues if budget had been there.

  3. Identify your priorities and share them with Building Better: The team have been nothing but masterful in supporting us achieve our objectives, even when these changed! We were in almost constant, upfront dialogue from the beginning. They supported us and the manufacturers when we needed to pivot and have left us with relationships we’re planning to pick up on when the right scheme presents itself.

Find out how Building Better can support your organisation with MMC by contacting us.

Katie Gilmartin, head of business development and innovation at Platform Housing Group

17 May 2023

Membership of Building Better is open to any housing association or local authority housing provider in England and Wales.