JML Contracts

Blog: The future of Scottish housing – enlightened thinking required

John Langley

John Langley

In order to meet its goal of delivering 50,000 new affordable homes by 2021, the Scottish Government urgently needs to encourage companies to invest in sustainable, affordable and efficient methods of housebuilding, writes John Langley.

Just last weekend, 8,000 people slept out in Edinburgh to highlight the issue of homelessness in Scotland. A very worthwhile cause and one that raised much awareness and funds, however the issue of housing supply in general stretches far and wide across Scotland. It is at a crisis point; there can be no denying it. We don’t have enough housing at a social or affordable level and certainly not enough to meet the demands of continuing city centre growth in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

The government has committed to building 50,000 affordable homes in Scotland by 2021, however according to recent figures the actual number being constructed is between 800 and 900 fewer per quarter than are needed to meet that target.

Current predictions show that this housing crisis is going to get worse in the next decade, and as Finance Secretary Derek Mackay delivers the draft Scottish budget on Thursday 14 December it is vitally important that the Scottish Government looks to address this as a priority. Lack of supply pushes up both demand and prices, and we are now witnessing almost complete exclusion of some demographics in the house ownership market, let alone in the areas of social rented or affordable housing.

The Scottish Government, through the Local Government and Communities Committee, talks about sustainability of housing and the importance of energy efficiency, however we are not currently seeing a significant drive towards delivering this.

headshotsweb-18Scotland is a country that has evolved and thrived through its innovative approach and ability to approach problems differently.  We really need to find this enlightened thinking in our approach to housing if we are going to meet the demand and build stock that will last and benefit our people and the environment well into the future.

In Scotland, particularly outside urban areas, construction projects often face challenges due to remote locations, large geographic spread and inclement weather. This is where methods of housebuilding need to be reviewed to consider offsite manufacture and prefabrication. Building in a clean, dry, and most importantly safe environment can only improve standards across the industry. New computer software, technologies and machinery advancement has meant that entire developments can be prefabricated within a factory environment and shipped to site for highly rapid installation.

The introduction of construction techniques such as Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) has been slowly increasing. It does require marginally higher upfront costs, but the long-term benefits for residents, landlords and the environment significantly outweigh these initial outlays. These benefits include rapid construction times, low energy usage due to the excellent insulative properties, limited thermal bridging, and inherently air-tight characteristics which can deliver Passivehaus standards.

There are a number of areas that are ideally suited to new and innovative methods of construction, for example social and RSL housing; Private Rented Sector housing; Local Authority Housing Association builds; educational buildings and classrooms; and low-energy commercial buildings.

We have a real opportunity and more than that, a real need, in Scotland to innovate and change the way we build all types of housing. There needs to be a focus on low energy usage and speed of construction, without sacrificing structural or design integrity. We need to build houses quickly, but we need them to last and benefit our environment and those living in them by reducing the amount of fuel to heat and light them. Now is definitely the time for a more enlightened approach to housing in Scotland.

  • John Langley is director at JML Contracts

And finally… Perthshire firm has Grand Designs on future growth following TV appearance

Kevin McCloud and the JML Contracts team filming at the JML factory in Perthshire

Kevin McCloud and the JML Contracts team filming at the JML factory in Perthshire

Scottish construction business JML Contracts will feature in this week’s Grand Designs show (Wednesday 25 October) after carrying out work on what is potentially the smallest two-bedroom house in London.

The show features a ‘compact’ property in the capital built on a site of approximately 9.5m x 4m.

Auchterarder-based JML Contracts believes the project will clearly demonstrate why demand is growing for its “highly energy efficient and speedy house building method” using Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs).

The SIPs method was selected for the construction to allow for specific design considerations; to deliver a speedy and precise build time; and to ensure optimum thermal efficiency of the completed home to Passive House standard. JML, based in Perthshire, was appointed as the key provider due to its strong credentials, specialised and bespoke SIPs offering and understanding of the engineering requirements of the project.

This demand for SIPs is beginning to gain some ground in the UK, as people begin to see the benefits which have been embraced wholeheartedly in northern Europe. JML has seen business growth of 30% year on year since 2015, and is projected to continue at this pace each year until 2020.

Grand DesignsJML director John Langley said: “SIPs is one technology which could help to reshape the future of housebuilding in the UK but the country still lags behind in its uptake. The previously slow adoption of SIPs is largely down to the higher upfront costs, however the long-term benefits for residents, landlords and the environment significantly outweigh these initial outlays. These benefits include low energy usage due to the excellent insulation, limited thermal bridging, and inherently air-tight characteristics.

“Our business which employs 21 people in Perthshire has seen a 30 percent growth in the past two years. We are predicting that this level of growth will be sustained for the next three years, as awareness of the benefits of SIPs grows and demand increases across Scotland and beyond. As well as the self-build market we are seeing increased interest from housing associations, social housing and also the emerging Private Rented sector.”

As part of the filming for this specific Grand Designs project, presenter Kevin McCloud visited JML’s factory in Auchterarder, with the architect client to see the team construct the house in advance. This was the first time the team had visited a SIPs factory before, and also the first time they had ever completed a pre-construction.

The SIPs method requires very specific engineering processes which means that each piece is designed and cut in advance and then slotted together in a short time using a ‘jigsaw-style’ approach when on site – or in a factory.

JML Contracts owners, husband and wife team John and Katie Langley, with Kevin McCloud

JML Contracts owners, husband and wife team John and Katie Langley, with Kevin McCloud

John Langley added: “This was a really great experience for the whole JML team and we were delighted to meet Kevin and his Grand Designs colleagues. This project was a really interesting and challenging one from the outset and the end result is fantastic. By using SIPs in this project so many of the client’s requirements were met and it really demonstrates why and how SIPs and its many benefits is becoming a popular method of choice for self-build and custom build developers.”

Joe Stuart, of JSID Ltd, the architect and owner of the house, said: “Working with JML Contracts was great. They were knowledgeable and eager to advise, acting almost as an extension of my own team. After a thorough build up tweaking the design with the engineering team to get it completely right, the factory team was able to turn around the manufacturing incredibly quickly.

“The design of the kit was suited to the tight site, and the team was on call for any support required whilst I built the kit over 400 miles away! The structure was erected by hand within a week.”

The project which in total took 23 months and cost approximately £250k to complete and was heralded for its approach based on the complexity and size of the plot in a dense urban area.