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  • You wouldn't build a car in a field... - Interview with Calum Murray, CCG

You wouldn't build a car in a field... - Interview with Calum Murray, CCG

'You wouldn’t build a car in a field so why would you build a house in one?' says Calum Murray, Director at CCG. We've asked him about the benefits of offsite construction for developers, contractors and housing manufacturers. What role collaboration plays and why they chose cross-laminated timber for their latest building project, Yoker.  

Where do you see the benefits of timber offsite construction?

CCG has been involved in the research and development into the applied use of Off-Site Modern Methods of Construction for over 20 years. In the mid-00’s we foresaw acute changes to market conditions that have now come true: a demand for affordable housing that is outstripping supply; a shortage in the supply of skilled labour, and changes to building standards and regulations in order to improve environmental efficiency. CCG felt that if we were to challenge these issues head on, we had to change our construction practices and so, through extensive research and development and private investment from the CCG Board, CCG Offsite Manufacturing (OSM) was launched in 2010 and is one of the UK’s leading offsite manufacturing facilities.

One presiding question for us as a contractor and manufacturer relates to the construction process -you wouldn’t build a car in a field so why would you build a house in one? CCG’s iQ closed panel timber system is manufactured across a 3-lane production hub that can produce a fully completed wall panel, inclusive of insulation, windows, doors, internal wall linings and service zones every 90 minutes.

CCG OSM and off-site construction in general, take all of the inefficiencies of the site environment away from the construction process and replaces it with a factory-controlled environment that ensures consistency of quality; is safer for staff and is unaffected by the weather, notwithstanding the fact the product that is produced that far more energy efficient than compared to traditional construction methods. On-site, we optimise our capability by combining the complementary skills that we can access across all our divisions. For example, using the iQ closed panel timber system puts CCG at the forefront in the practical application of Modern Methods of Construction offering complete design flexibility as well as an assured construction capability. The construction process is much more efficient with simplified site management, fewer wet trades, less on-site damage and rapid site erection.

As a contractor/ manufacturer, we can relay these advantages to our clients across all sectors. A key area for CCG is the affordable housing sector where we have worked with housing associations and local authorities for many years. Here CCG can deliver homes to a higher quality standard with fewer post-completion defects bringing long-term maintenance savings; flexibility in design to adhere to the end-user, a particular advantage for amenity housing; at a faster speed of construction which is hugely important due to demand levels, and that are far more energy efficient, alleviating the pressures of fuel poverty.

These advantages are not exclusive to the residential sector. Whether it is in the provision of schools, student accommodation or care homes, off-site construction will consistently benefit a project of any type and scale. Off-site construction is a no-brainer.

What is driving the off-site agenda and which role does industry collaboration play?

There is an acknowledged housing crisis across the UK. With demand outstripping supply, we simply aren’t building enough affordable homes. These homes also have to be constructed with the climate agenda in mind and to a high-quality standard, a standard that is brought by a skilled labour force. Each of these elements are the reasons why off-site is the answer – we need to do more. We need to adopt a new thought process and embrace off-site construction for the innovative construction method that it is: it allows us to build homes faster and more efficiently whilst being less reliant on the availability of labour.

To combat these measures we have to work together. CCG has embraced new technologies to take ourselves forward but we are also evolving our approach to projects themselves, engaging with our public sector partners on a one to one basis, pooling resources at the front end to enable a more efficient approach to housing delivery. We are also collaborating with academic partners in both the research and development of timber construction technology as well as training and apprenticeships – CCG employs 70 trade apprentices and 53 trainees, all of whom are brought through intensive, industry-recognised training programmes. 

Our most recent collaboration comes in the form of Offsite Solutions Scotland. Made up of nine Scottish-based offsite manufacturers supported by Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, Edinburgh Napier University and Scottish Enterprise, this new company has been formed to advance innovation collaboration in research and development, alignment on skills and development and the collective branding of Scotland’s unmatched offsite capability and heritage throughout the UK and potentially overseas. Offsite Solutions Scotland is a leading example of how companies can work together for the greater good of the industry.

Looking at all available timber offsite solutions, which ones work best for what type of project?

The great thing about offsite construction technology is its flexibility. There isn’t really a right or wrong answer when approaching a project. For CCG, we manufacture panelised systems which are used across low to medium rise residential projects, primary schools, student accommodation and care homes. The panelised system itself, due to wind and load bearing, is limited to four-storeys without the assistance of traditional blockwork to support building higher. We have this construction flexibility but it does not prohibit our approach to projects.

If we were to compare to a volumetric solution, it can be used to build higher and adapts well to a built-up environment, but is suitable for medium to high-rise shown by its popularity in the hotel and leisure sector and student accommodation but can prove more expensive. However, its advantages remain the same as the panelised system – enhanced speed of construction, enhanced sustainability and enhanced quality standards. The technical solution in principle then can be determined by the preference of the client as offsite construction and timber technology in any form is a better principle method of delivery than traditional methods. 

What made you choose CLT over other solutions for Yoker?

The Yoker development, located to the west of Glasgow city centre, is a seven storey flatted development comprising 42 mid-market rent flats. Seven storeys is generally into the realms of light gauge steel frames structures or concrete framed. CLT offered an alternative to these traditional methods and also presented CCG with the opportunity to utilise new construction methods.

CCG is always looking forward and understand the potential of CLT and how it can be used to enhance our offsite offering. By researching and developing our understanding of the material both in method and in practice at Yoker, we now know that CLT can be used as hybrid construction with our closed panel timber frame system in common areas of flatted developments. Removing the reliance on concrete and steel will allow us to construct the entire superstructure of our buildings in tandem which will further remove site efficiencies and improve the speed of construction whilst enhancing sustainability given the excellent thermal properties that are brought by CLT. Yoker is a showcase of extensive research and development into the product over the past 3 years and we hope it raises awareness within the industry of what CLT is capable of and as a result hopefully grow our market share.

What recommendations do you have for developers interested in using offsite solutions?

The recommendations to embrace offsite construction technology are there to be seen. Do you want to improve the construction process? Do you want assurance of quality and sustainability? Then choose offsite. Better yet…choose CCG! 

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