Predesign versus Prefabrication

Published: 19 July 2013

In autumn 2012 the Government first unveiled its ‘Small Classrooms’ initiative, pledging to spend £2.1 Billion on a replacement to the Building Schools for the Future scheme. In our Blog ‘Small Classrooms’, Berwick Partners discussed reliance on standardisation and off site manufacture as being key to realising these cost reductions.

Not covered in the blog was the emerging technique of ‘predesign’, essentially using an off the peg procurement and design route to speed up the initial stages of a build which then relies on traditional construction techniques once on site.

Fast-forward to Summer 2013 and the notion of standardisation is gaining traction, one early adopter being Wilmott Dixon. Wilmott and Local Government procurement body Scape have created the joint venture business Sunesis, offering the public sector guaranteed costs and timescales for the design, procurement and construction of schools, leisure centres and care homes.

The concept of ‘predesign’ takes prefabrication one step further and its popularity is easy to understand when you read Sunesis’s claim to deliver public buildings through the OJEU process with cast iron guarantees on quality, cost and timescale. The financial rewards are certainly there, according to figures from Sunesis. They claim that build costs per pupil for a predesigned school can range from £8,500 to £10,000. It cites typical cost per pupil on a traditionally procured school to be in the region of £15,000 to £20,000.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander’s recent Education spending review reveals that in real terms capital expenditure for the Department for Education is to be cut by 1.7 per cent in 2015/16. This is undeniably bad news for the sector; however with almost 50% savings to be made for predesigned schools it certainly serves to place the standardised building agenda firmly in the spotlight.

If a contractor were able to combine both predesign and prefabrication methods this would surely lead to even more staggering savings. It may simply erode the already wafer thin profit margins the sector experiences and could be one step too far.

Korinna Sjoholm is a Consultant specialising in the Built Environment within the Energy Manufacturing and Infrastructure Practice of Berwick Partners.

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