Construction National

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Mon23102017

Last updateFri, 20 Oct 2017 3pm

Construction industry builds up a head of steam as confidence returns

Construction National blog logoRecent months have seen the steady building up of a head of steam in the construction industry. Output has been improving and confidence returning - albeit with a bit of a dip in the run-up to the General Election.

Read more: Construction industry builds up a head of steam as confidence returns

On the move or staying at home – innovation and sustainability are key issues

Construction National blog logoThe two main construction sectors attracting interest from the news media continue to be housing and transport infrastructure. The two are closely connected in one sense, with infrastructure being the essential precursor to housing development.

There is more to the transport infrastructure than roads serving new housing estates, of course. Some of the most breathtaking and simply impressive projects are in the sector. The daddy of them all in this country remains the Crossrail project. Crossrail has featured frequently in this column, with superlatives totting up. The latest milestone in civil engineering terms has been the structural completion of the tunnels for the north east spur of Crossrail, between Whitechapel and Pudding Mill Lane (both darkly evocative names).

Read more: On the move or staying at home – innovation and sustainability are key issues

The industry continues the good work, and congratulates the best of its members

January saw the year off to a good start for the construction industry, with one report showing higher levels of growth than at any time since 2007. The UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index – a statistical tool jointly compiled and published by market research company Markit and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply – reported growth in all sectors. The irony is that the continuing growth in activity has led to a parallel “deterioration in supplier performance”. Seems product suppliers have not cottoned on to the fact that the industry is out of recession and is not keeping up with demand.

Read more: The industry continues the good work, and congratulates the best of its members

So what’s the real Big Idea - back to the past with a garden; or onward into the future at Crewe?

Construction National blog logoSo garden cities are the new vogue in housebuilding policy announcements. On 16 March Chancellor George Osborne announced that a new garden city was to be built at Ebbsfleet in Kent, providing 15,000 new homes on brownfield land.

The development will be driven forward by a new development corporation – a ‘Garden City’ Development Corporation – similar to those that oversaw development in areas such as the London Docklands and the various New Towns of the 1980s. One of this writer’s first jobs in publishing was on a publication covering the Warrington and Runcorn Development Corporation’s area of influence. That, of course, was not a garden city, although it is not a million miles from one of the pioneering ventures in the movement: Lord Leverhulme’s Port Sunlight.

The original garden city concept grew out of the Arts and Crafts movement and was a reaction to the grim Victorian tenements and terraces. It is, one would be forgiven for thinking, a tad socialist for our current Chancellor. But George is really reacting to an idea already in the arena. On 20 November Labour’s shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds put forward a plan for a new generation of new towns and garden cities at the AGM of the Town and Country Planning Association – the successor to Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities Association.

Read more: So what’s the real Big Idea - back to the past with a garden; or onward into the future at Crewe?

Farewell to a year of increasing optimism, with a better one in prospect

Construction National blog logoIt’s the end of another year and it seems an appropriate time to reflect on what has happened in the construction industry over the past 12 months – like those endless series of TV programmes doing exactly that instead of going to the trouble of making some new ones.

The answer to the question posed, however, is “a lot”. The year began with the industry cautiously welcoming a few tidbits of optimism in the housing market in particular. The NHBC published the most promising set of figures for a long time, echoed by the RICS.

• On the infrastructure front, Crossrail has consistently entertained throughout the year, beginning with the construction of a whole new station under the Thames at Canary Wharf and ending with the discovery of a whole Roman cemetery.

• One of the most unsavoury running sores in the industry this year has been the scandal of the so-called blacklist run by the now-defunct Consulting Association. The first victim to be compensated was informed of the fact in October and the industry has set up a compensation scheme, while denying they did anything wrong.

• The big story of 2012 has, unfortunately, so far failed to be carried through to fulfil its promise. I’m referring, of course, to the Olympic legacy and the promised transformation of the site into housing and community resources for Londoners.

As recently as November, Lord Harris of Haringey, the chair of the House of Lords committee tasked with overseeing the issue, said: “…we are recommending that one Government minister should be given overall responsibility for all strands of legacy across the UK. We also believe that the Mayor of London should be given the necessary power and lead responsibility to take forward the legacy vision for East London and the development of the Olympic Park.”

There we are, then; Boris’s airport site problem solved.

• Looking forward, Glasgow will get its own chance to shine with staging of the Commonwealth Games. There has been some new build, but the organisers have achieved their main objective (getting all the venues and the village ready on time and on budget) by revamping existing venues – possibly the ultimate in retrofit!

• January will see the NHBC announcing its Supreme Winners in its Pride in the Job awards. The race to the tape in London began in the summer with the announcement of the first-round winners.  Now the winners have been whittled down to the Regional Winners in the various categories based on size of builder plus the new, single plot winners. As always, the final stage of the competition will be covered in detail by the paper version of Construction National.

Chris Stokes