How we’re developing with Building Better – Halton Housing

Building Better members are already using the MMC Category 1 framework to build offsite homes. Find out more about their schemes and the costs involved.

Halton Housing

With over 7,000 homes across the Northwest, predominately in Widnes and Runcorn, and more recently in surrounding boroughs including Cheshire and Warrington, Halton Housing have already piloted two MMC developments and plan to develop many more in coming years. We spoke to Paul Mullane, Halton Housing’s director of development and growth about how they are delivering through the Building Better framework.

What are your development targets?

Our goal is to build and acquire over 1,000 new homes by 2027. In the past we’ve driven this mainly through package deals from contractors, where the land comes as part of the deal, or more recently via Section 106 agreements where the developer has to provide an element of affordable housing.

But being part of Building Better is helping us to develop differently. We’re looking to break our 1,000 target down, with a third coming from the package route, a third from Section 106 and a third from factory-built homes.

Those divisions aren’t hard and fast but having the MMC option helps you think about development with a fresh perspective.

The difference between the first two routes and MMC is land. We have to buy land if we want to develop MMC homes and that changes the way we look at a programme.

What’s it been like to use the framework?

At the moment, we are in the early stages of obtaining the required land supply, however, we have been looking at a site in Runcorn and due to the benefit of the Building Better framework we were able to begin early dialogue with one of the MMC manufacturers.

Although the site isn’t huge, we’re aiming to develop three or four houses and behind them, an additional 24 – 30 apartments. The scheme is within an existing residential area, with properties bounding the site on three sides. It is a great opportunity for Halton Housing and our customers as it would be central, attractive and close to other initiatives such as Runcorn Station Quarter, Runcorn Town Deal and a recently completed Halton Housing scheme centre.

The manufacturer looked at our initial drawings and came back within two weeks saying that unfortunately they couldn’t deliver houses and apartments, mainly because it’s an infill site so access might be tricky, and it was also a restricted site shape, meaning that their standard house types would not easily fit on the site.

Due to the speed of this manufacturer’s review, we are now able to look at the possibility of building MMC apartments only and if that’s not an option then we’ll look at a traditional route. The great aspect is that all this will have been completed prior to us buying the site, enabling us to be clear as to the build route, which could include Building Better’s new Category 2 procurement solution!

How has Building Better helped with the procurement process?

Having Building Better there has been a real advantage. If I didn’t have the framework and I’d found this site and wanted to do MMC, I’d be thinking, how can I do it? The benefit of Building Better is that I knew this piece of land was coming up and I could quickly go to the framework and directly engage with manufacturers.

Although this site might not be a goer for MMC, I am making decisions based on live information from the manufacturer, not just my gut. You have the ability to have real-life, real-time conversations. So even if I don’t build MMC there, the framework has still worked. I still have a definitive answer. It’s a learning experience and in future, I’ll have more knowledge and ability to filter a potential scheme, I’ll feel more confident about whether a site is right for MMC.

In development you are always getting knocked back. If you try one route and it doesn’t work, then you try another. The Building Better framework is helping me do this in a speedy and informed way.

What about costs?

Although we didn’t get to the cost stage, I get the feeling that if the manufacturer had been able to deliver, they would have come back quickly on costs.

Overall, MMC prices received by other Building Better members aren’t 100 miles off traditional and costs on traditional are going up anyway.

What about the uplift to net zero?

I’m conscious that everything I build today could be a future retrofit scheme for my maintenance colleagues. So the sooner I get all new homes to net zero carbon, the better – for customers, for colleagues, for the business and of course for the planet. But it’s about how you frame the business case for net zero uplift on MMC. You either pay the scheme price plus additional costs on net zero today or you pay even more in 10 years’ plus.

Also, the MMC industry is a lot clearer on how they get from the current product to net zero than traditional is – it’s a bigger jump for them. So by the time you get a net zero price in for traditional, and you compare it with MMC, then parity on cost is starting to fall in to place.

By Paul Mullane, director of development and growth at Halton Housing

21 March 2022

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