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Construction National blog: 25/05/2012

Construction National blog logoThe main construction news of the week happened on 24 May, when Education Secretary Michael Gove announced that 261 schools would receive funding for rebuilding programmes under the Priority Schools Building Programme, out of 587 that applied. A total of £2bn has been allocated to the scheme over the next five years. It replaces the last government's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, which aimed to rebuild or replace every secondary school in England. That would have cost £55bn.

Naturally, as with every competitive arrangement of this nature there were some who were delighted, but more who were outraged. The leader of Sandwell Council in the West Midlands was scathing about the fact that only three of its 17 applications had been successful, describing the scheme as "...a half-hearted botch job which will impact on young kids in a deprived area."

Read more: Construction National blog: 25/05/2012

Construction National blog: 15/05/2012

Construction National blog logoWhile researching an article for the paper version of a sister magazine of this title, Ecclesiastical and Heritage World, I came across the story of St Andrew's Church in Boxford, Berkshire. Its main claim to fame is that it contains what is thought to be the oldest working Saxon shuttered window in the country. Equally interesting to me is the fact that, when its tower fell down in 1657 it fell into the garden of "a prominent local Quaker named Oliver Sanson, who was in the middle of an on-going feud with the rector, Jacob Anderton, over the payment of tithes," according to David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History.

Mr Sanson refused to let the church have the pieces of masonry back, so new material had to be used, making the tower distinct from the rest of the church, which was medieval (except for the Saxon bit).

Read more: Construction National blog: 15/05/2012

Construction National blog: 03/05/2012

Construction National blog logoThe Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has been busy over the past few weeks. On 24 it published new quantity surveying and construction standards – the Black Book – together with New Rules of Measurement. The institution described it as: "One of the most significant launches by RICS in the past 30 years."

The new standards reflect the way the industry is changing and has changed over the past decade. A construction site is not – and doesn't look – the same place as it did a decade or so ago. Gone are the huddles of men pouring over flapping pieces of paper, their cigarettes glowing in the biting wind.

Now the men – and women – in charge on site all have separate access to documentation via tablet or smartphone (even a laptop is passé) and the entire site is a no-smoking area. BIM is the new way of integrated working.

Read more: Construction National blog: 03/05/2012

Construction National blog: 25/04/2012

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The country has sunk once again into recession, according to figures published today (25 April) by the Office of National Statistics, that august body by whom I was once – briefly – employed. It is what they call a 'double-dip' recession: two quarters of contraction following one quarter of growth. The main culprit was the construction industry, with a 3% decrease in output during the first quarter of this year.

Dave said he wasn't going to try to excuse the figures or explain them away. That, at least, is a first for a politician. The deputy chair of sector skills body ConstructionSkills, Judy Lowe, was quoted as saying: "The huge cuts to public spending – 25% in public sector housing and 24% in public non-housing and with a further 10% cuts to both anticipated for 2013 – have left a hole too big for other sectors to fill."

Those of us who count cranes for a living have been wondering for a lot longer than six months what must be holding up all the buildings under construction. The answer is 'nothing' – there aren't any buildings under construction. Housebuilding has ground to a halt, with a massive downturn in the social housing sector more than cancelling out modest increases in the private sector. According to figures released by the NHBC, February saw a 58% drop in the number of new homes registered in the public sector, against a 27% increase in the public sector.

There have been glimpses of light. New transport projects are in the pipeline or underway, such as the extension of the Metrolink in Greater Manchester and the announcement of an electrification scheme for the trans-Pennine routes. Less successful was the launch of the new, £100m tramway in Blackpool. The first tram to set off from Fleetwood on 4 April was derailed and the line temporarily closed because of – sand on the tracks! In Blackpool? Well I never.

In the capital, the Crossrail project is expected to employ up to 13,000 people in the next three years or so, while the Underground has been busy upgrading stations and lines to take its new trains.

New hotel building has also seen a veritable boom. Last time I counted there were at least a dozen either recently completed or on site in London alone.

The spur for that, of course, has been London 2012. In fact the Olympic building project has almost certainly kept the construction industry alive, with over 10,000 people employed on the Olympic Park and Athletes' Village at one point in 2010. That was in addition to other venues, infrastructure and aforesaid ancillary activities such as accommodation.

What is going to happen when all that is over. Maybe we should patch things up with Herr Blatter et al and get bidding for the World Cup again. When is the next one available; 2026?

 Chris Stokes

Construction National blog: 10/04/2012

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Following on the heels of the Budget came the much-heralded National Planning Policy Framework, or NPPF: THE hot topic among construction news stories.

It had been flagged in the Budget, before which it had been attacked by an ‘unholy alliance’ of The National Trust and Friends of the Earth for its proposed presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’ and its (later amended) failure to favour brownfield development.

In the ends nobody was happy, which state of affairs on another subject His Honour Lord Jackson stated could mean it was broadly right. In essence those who favour lots of development welcomed the new framework, although they think that there is still too much restriction; those who don’t, didn’t. They think there is far too little restriction, meaning the entire countryside is on the brink of being dug up and built on.

One area that will almost certainly see a fall in applications is the building of extensions to listed properties. This magazine’s sister publication, Ecclesiastical and Heritage World, will be examining in some depth what the introduction of VAT will mean to the sector. What no-one disagrees with, however, is that a 50-page framework for making planning decisions is better than 3,000 pages.

One of the ‘in’ terms in construction news circles is building information management – BIM. It even has its own trade show. As acronyms go it’s certainly one if the least inspiring; which is a shame, as the development of integrated IT systems covering the entire build process is crucial to a modern construction industry.

In the words of an article published last November in the paper edition of Construction National, BIM is more than just 3D CAD. To find out more go to BIM Show Live at the Business Design Centre in London on 9-10 May.

On a less-than-encouraging note, the HSE has reported that one fifth of sites visited in a national construction site safety initiative failed the safety check. What is even more alarming is that the figure showed “a slight improvement”! Falls from height are a major cause of death or injury in what is one of the country’s most dangerous industries (celebrity ice dancing does not count) and for 20% of companies not to taking the issue seriously enough is a scandal.

One safety issue that has been clarified concerns non-licensed work with asbestos. The changes are in response to an EC view that the UK had not fully implemented the EU Directive on working with the substance. The changes are minor and do not mean a mass exodus of consultants from the Construction Directory on this site.

Chris Stokes