Frank Towell Court
Providing 102 new quality homes in Feltham
weeks to build
Creating 430 apartments for private sale and rent across two plots as part of Perry Barr’s Residential Scheme Phase 1, while integrating a wealth of offsite expertise for rapid delivery.
Birmingham City Council put new housing at the heart of Perry Barr's regeneration, which was accelerated by investment secured to host the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. It kicked off with significant new housing provision in Perry Barr – totalling 968 homes. Lendlease was commissioned as principal contractor for phase one of the PBRS, valued at £326m.
This saw Willmott Dixon and two other tier-one contractors appointed across four plots. We worked closely with the council to understand what they wanted to achieve and when – which led to us proposing an MMC solution for our two plots and the council accepting.
Designed by Corstorphine & Wright, the vision of the residential development was to create new activity and vibrancy for the area whilst providing much-need housing provision.
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At a time when external factors, particularly Brexit, were wreaking havoc on materials and resources, delivering the new homes using only traditional building techniques was far too great a risk, particularly in a heated Midlands market and with the scale of other works planned in Perry Barr simultaneously.
The council has historically used a more traditional construction approach, so we worked to address their concerns about using a new method for such a landmark project.
We reinforced the method’s ability to deliver assured quality and meet programme expectations, boosting the council’s confidence in overcoming time and budget constraints. Another key benefit was waste reduction; our plots delivered only 20% of the waste and were 50% more efficient when compared to a local 266-home traditional build development.
As a result, plots eight and nine showcased the possibilities of such an approach and dispelled the myths about the added value provided by MMC. This led to Willmott Dixon becoming the only contractor to utilise these modern techniques at such scale on the scheme.
Plots eight and nine include 430 one- and two-bedroom apartments in four and six-storey blocks – built for sale and affordable rent.
We incorporated MMC elements such as light gauge steel frame, brick slip façades, pre-manufactured balconies and balustrades, and almost 700 bathroom pods. The steel-framed panel system required 25 people on site to assemble, compared to 160 for an equivalent-sized concrete frame traditional build. No scaffolding was required due to the use of a mechanically fixed, brick slip facade – improving safety, eliminating temporary works and providing an 80% reduction in cement, one of the worst materials for embodied carbon.
The bathroom pods were manufactured offsite in a factory – this generated greater quality assurance, which was reflected in the levels of quality and minimal snags we experienced. It also enabled prices to be fixed early on, providing greater programme certainty and assured quality – there were almost no issues compared to the typical build-and-fit approach. The ability to install between 15 and 20 complete bathrooms per day increased time efficiency by 30% and raised productivity, whilst reducing trades and people on site, with their associated vehicle movements and deliveries. Reducing the number of people working in close proximity was a key benefit in an unforeseen Covid world.
Despite Covid, which disrupted many a project programme, combining these MMC elements enabled us to complete our plots six weeks early and hand over nine months ahead of the traditionally-built plots. Given the other plots on the scheme were of similar scale, it offered a unique opportunity to directly compare MMC’s pace of completion with traditional building methods – with MMC proving faster and to a very high-quality mark.
The use of MMC helped us combat a limited specialist labour pool during a period of market turbulence, which was already stretched due to simultaneous building projects underway in the local vicinity.
Furthermore, when the pandemic hit, the flexibility of MMC enabled us to pivot and implement changes in standard working practices without impacting on programme – something that could have significantly impacted logistics and timing for a traditional build. This included re-sequencing the steel frame structure process to allow for social distancing, reviewing products and materials to avoid those with national shortages and pre-manufacturing the bathroom pods and taking legal ownership of them (vesting) to ensure no delays – an eventuality that would have been faced when Covid made material supply challenging.
PBRS proves that MMC can help the public sector with common delivery problems, such as programme certainty, whole-life cost and resource efficiency, and still secure a quality product at an affordable price.
There is, however, another incredibly important benefit; the new Building Safety Act and the requirements it is placing upon industry to raise its game in record keeping. When it comes to life safety, adopting MMC alongside digital technologies makes it much easier to check and record the positioning of key safety features, such as fire-stopping barriers, against the design. Rather than the variability of traditional trades, MMC provides the opportunity to check and log the position of barriers, which can also be evidenced photographically, giving peace of mind to all involved. On a more traditional build this is trickier to achieve.
With so many benefits, the council is now looking at how it can use MMC in other areas, such as low-rise housebuilding and commercial spaces. The council is conscious of its responsibility to support the construction industry with new ideas and techniques and understands that implementing the latest methods will provide benefits for everyone.
The approach for plots eight and nine has attracted continued attention. Impressed by the result at the PBRS, Cross Keys Homes, the developer behind the 315-apartment Indigo project in Peterborough, has commissioned us to deliver another MMC-driven high-rise residential scheme.
The first phase of PBRS remains a cornerstone of Perry Barr’s regeneration. It provides valuable lessons learnt that will inform future phases of the 'Perry Barr 2040: A Vision for Legacy' masterplan. It offers a valuable example showcasing to other public sector organisations how they can receive high-quality projects on time and on budget through MMC.
We are now running workshops for clients and potential clients using the wealth of data, learnings and information from this scheme to help them to understand real-world MMC costs. These insights are helping to unlock schemes by demonstrating where added value lies.
Anna Evans, project director at Lendlease, said:
“We’re pleased to see the innovative use of bathroom pods at Perry Barr. This is another excellent example of the work taking place to ensure this development will be completed efficiently, safely and sustainably.”
Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council said:
“We have an urgent need for new and high-quality housing in this city.
“The Perry Barr Residential Scheme is making a significant contribution to meeting this demand – so it is really pleasing to see the innovative approach being used to equip the homes on these plots with excellent facilities.
“The completion of the bathrooms for these homes represents another significant milestone for the wider regeneration of Perry Barr.”
Collaboration was a key element of PBRS from the outset. At the preconstruction phase our consultative approach helped the customer to create a value-for-money scheme without jeopardising their vision. During the construction phase we worked with the other scheme contractors, the Council and Lendlease to coordinate logistics, planning and dependencies, as well as leading on delivering partner workshops on the all-important changing fire policy legislation for high-rise residential buildings.
To ensure social distancing and enhanced safe working procedures, the team reviewed and implemented various changes to programme. This included the re-sequencing of the structure process of the lightweight steel frame to allow for social distancing, the review of required products and materials to avoid instances of national shortage and vesting of the bathroom pods to ensure no delays to programme.
Chris Warren, Senior Operations Manager said:
“One of the main benefits that has also been particularly beneficial this year with the Covid-19 pandemic is the reduction in site numbers. We’ve ran Plot 8 with just 20 site operatives to complete the superstructure – compare this to a traditional build and you’re looking at 100+. If you look even deeper the benefits are tenfold – reduced pressures on labour, carparking and welfare facilities, increased logistical efficiencies, and of course increased capabilities for social distancing measures.”
The bathroom pods were constructed offsite using MMC
This regeneration is much more than building high quality and much needed housing in Perry Barr. Whilst on site, we worked with Lendlease and other plot contractors to deliver a whole host of community and economic activities that will benefit local people now and in the future.
As well as delivering community projects and engaging with schools, collectively, Lendlease, Willmott Dixon and the other scheme contractors have contributed to the creation of 400 new jobs for local people - 50 of which are apprenticeships. On top of this we supported 1,000 pre-employment training places and contributed towards hosting 10,500 work experience hours over the duration of Phase 1. 60% of product spend went to small-to-medium sized local businesses.
To promote jobs and training opportunities in local communities, we worked with Birmingham City Council’s Employment Access Team on a variety of initiatives. Some of these included:
For more information on the community benefits of the scheme, please take a look at Birmingham City Council’s website.
One Snowhill, Snow Hill Queensway, Birmingham
Tel: 0121 236 9668
Perry Barr Residential Project, Aldridge Road, Birmingham, B42 2SU