By Martin Townsend, Director of Sustainability at BRE Global

When Prime Minister Theresa May called for a snap General Election last month she made it clear that Brexit – and in particular her attempt to strengthen her hand ahead of potentially UK prosperity-defining trade negotiations with the European Union – was central to her decision. Brexit has dominated the early pre-election political exchanges and with less than five weeks to go until the electorate heads to the polls, we expect the issue to remain at the very top of the agenda for all the main parties. As such, we feel that housing and construction, as high-value commodities and significant contributors to UK export figures, should be given due consideration by all the main parties in their election manifestos. Furthermore, the debate should be extended beyond mere number-based targets to factor in wider issues such as quality and the sector’s post-Brexit significance.

The UK construction industry is currently seen as being at the leading edge of sustainable design and construction, as exemplified by the major roles played by UK companies in the success of a broad range of high-performance projects in both the UK and abroad.

As a result, the UK’s sustainable design and construction capabilities – including its knowledge and expertise as well as its focus on innovation, driven by standards such as BREEAM – have become significant contributors to UK exports.

Given that the campaign manifestos currently being finalised will span a period when UK prosperity will be heavily dependent on our position to negotiate favourable trade deals with Europe, ensuring we protect and nurture these assets is essential.

This requires active debate and investment on a level much deeper than just numbers – both in terms of targets and budgets.

By way of example, the Labour Party has recently pledged to build one million new homes during the next five years. All well and good, but there has been no commitment given to the quality of these homes and the viability of delivering quality homes and communities.

If we are not to create any “dead weight” (cost) to the treasury for UK PLC, one area that the political parties could give some thought to is evolving existing mechanisms to be more effective to new challenges. With increasing demands placed on Planning Authorities, and reduced funding to be as much of a mantra post-election as it is pre-election, it is essential that the parties give local authorities space and capacity to look at development and the wider context of what we need to achieve at a neighbourhood/community scale.

This should be focused on seeking positive improvements in the quality of the built, natural and historic environment, as well as in people’s quality of life:

  • Making it easier for jobs to be created in cities, towns and villages;
  • Moving from a net loss of bio-diversity to achieving net gains for nature;
  • Replacing poor design with better design;
  • Improving the conditions in which people live, work, travel and take leisure; and
  • Widening the choice of high quality homes;

I therefore hope that the parties, as they look to an agenda of growth, ensure this wider perspective is taken. We have already heard much talk about the police and the NHS, but to ensure that we don’t put the pressure on these important services in time of crisis, we need to build better communities to reduce crime and promote healthier living.

With all the necessary elements already in place, there is just the need to take the long-term view on the viability of development – the avowed purpose of the planning system but sometimes only looked at as the viability of the individual site and not the wider community. I would therefore hope that the parties look to recast how we consider development.

A number of keen eyed readers will perhaps already noticed increased amount of column inches given to land value capture as a concept. But one thing is for sure we need to:

  • Take a long-term view, to ensure that issues such as inter-generational equity or climate change mitigation and adaptation are taken adequately into account
  • Address the social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainable development “jointly and simultaneously”
  • Consider the likely success of any proposal in achieving positive improvements in the quality of the built, natural and historic environment, as well as in people’s quality of life

I hope the debate on quality as a base to demonstrate what the UK can achieve and to drive the quality of our buildings and communities is one that will not get passed by in the various manifestos that will land on our desk in the coming days.

To make BREXIT work, we need to show what we can achieve and make the UK a success. Quality is a key to much that we need to achieve to drive this success.

from The UK Construction Blog http://ukconstructionblog.co.uk/2017/05/11/a-call-for-quality-to-be-included-in-manifesto-pledges/

Sellafield seeks four firms for £4.5bn spend

Sellafield has formally invited firms to bid for four key partner roles to deliver its £4.5bn construction programme.


The firm, which runs the Cumbria nuclear site, is rolling out a new collaborative procurement model that will change how major projects are delivered.

The four successful programme and project partners will work alongside Sellafield’s in-house engineers in integrated teams over the next 20 years.

This collaborative model will be used to deliver the huge works programme more safely, efficiently and cost effectively.

The selected firms will work together to deliver three initial major projects.  The SPRS Retreatment Plant, SIXEP Contingency Plant and Replacement Analytical Project, together estimated at £1bn – £1.7bn).

Further major projects in the pipeline still need more detailed project definition and are valued at £1.9bn-2.8bn.

Firms have until 7 June to submit bids and can find tender information on the Sellafield web portal.

Sellafield projects director Steve Livingstone, said: “This is a hugely important step for Sellafield Ltd – it is a game change for the way we deal with our supply chain.

“Instead of procuring supply chains for each major project, we’ll establish a new project delivery environment based upon long term relationships with selected partners, developing closer working practices on the way.”

from The UK Construction Blog http://ukconstructionblog.co.uk/2017/05/10/sellafield-seeks-four-firms-for-4-5bn-spend/

Manchester’s Harbur Construction goes under

Manchester-based social housing specialist Harbur Construction has sunk into administration.

The firm founded just seven years ago turned over £28m last year and employed more than 20 staff out of its Manchester Business Park base near the city airport.

Administrators from Leonard Curtis confirmed staff had been now laid off.

Harbur specialised in buying land, obtaining planning permission for schemes and then constructing them in conjunction with the relevant residential provider.

The firm built up skills in remediating brownfield sites in order to deliver affordable housing and commercial developments.

Harbur Construction was on site building a £2.9m 30 apartment scheme at Back Church street in Bolton and was working on several schemes for TAC Development including a £6m housing job of 70-plus units on the site of the Notre Dame School in Everton.

from The UK Construction Blog http://ukconstructionblog.co.uk/2017/05/08/manchesters-harbur-construction-goes-under/

New home registrations soar to 10-year high

The pace of house building is finally showing signs of cranking up a gear with new home registrations for the first quarter of 2017 hitting a 10-year high.

housing theme starts house building
Homes starts take off in first quarter

Nearly 42,500 new homes were registered in the UK by NHBC in the first three months of the year.

This represent a 17% jump on last year with both private and social housing showing strong growth.

Private sector homes were up 10% at 31,197 units, while affordable home registration jumped 40% to 11,273 new homes compared to last year.

For the first time in seven years all 12 regions across the UK enjoyed growth in registrations, when compared to the same period 12 months ago.

The North East (+39%), London (+38%) and Eastern (+31%) were among the regions with the most notable growth.

from The UK Construction Blog http://ukconstructionblog.co.uk/2017/05/05/new-home-registrations-soar-to-10-year-high/


The 2016 Farmer Review, or ‘Modernise or Die’ report, by the Construction Leadership Council provided much food for thought in terms of adapting and reorganising traditional onsite business processes in order for firms to remain viable in future. What the report doesn’t consider so explicitly however, are the numerous efficiencies to be gained by adapting processes in the back-office, writes Matthew Jones, CEO at Open ECX.

The Review suggests that ‘business as usual’ is not an option while the industry faces an uncertain post-Brexit future. Instead, rigorous thinking and planning, moving to more efficient ways of working on site, and employing the right quality and quantity of skill are important.

As such, the Farmer Review highlights ways to be more effective in the built environment, for example through use of pre-manufacture. Finding ways to streamline processes for improved efficiency; to better manage and communicate matters; to budget in a smarter way; and to handle subcontractor relationships more effectively are also key to reducing workload, ensuring a more healthy cash flow and improving supply chain effectiveness.

So it’s not just onsite activity that needs to change. By moving away from traditional, often administratively time-consuming methods in the back-office, forward-thinking construction firms are adopting modern technologies to streamline their entire business, making the lives of those who run them considerably easier.

For instance, the receiving and sending of paper documents, while still prevalent in some UK Construction firms, is fast becoming less popular particularly across Europe as modern businesses strive to shift to construction e-Invoicing; a paperless construction supply chain with automated workflows.

Similarly, contractors looking to strengthen subcontractor relationships and avoid unnecessary payment disputes are looking to new solutions to allow them to more easily track and manage subcontractor applications.

Many construction firms are discovering that using the right software tools in the back-office can dramatically improve existing low margins and save time. For example there are lots of companies that are no longer creating error-prone estimates or managing expenses through traditional manipulation of spreadsheets but instead are using tailored industry-specific software to improve the speed, control and accuracy of these every day processes.

Cloud-based construction ERP solutions are also becoming more popular to enhance a business’ control and real-time reporting ability right across operational, commercial and finance departments. Even chasing late payments can be more quickly managed and in greater volumes by using dedicated credit control software solutions.

from The UK Construction Blog http://ukconstructionblog.co.uk/2017/05/03/a-back-office-take-on-the-construction-leadership-councils-modernise-or-die-recommendations/

London Mayor pulls plug on Garden Bridge

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has written to supporters of the £200m Garden Bridge project confirming he will not provide the financial guarantees needed for construction to start

Khan said that “the continuation of the project will expose the London taxpayer to additional financial risk, both with regard to the bridge’s construction and its operation and maintenance.”

The scheme has been on life-support for some time and the latest move looks to kill-off any chances of it being built.

Khan said: “Under the previous Mayor, a considerable amount of London taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the Garden Bridge.

“I have always been clear that not a penny more of taxpayers’ money should be allocated to the project.”Having assessed all the information available to me including the findings of Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review, my view is that providing Mayoral guarantees will expose the London taxpayer to too much additional financial risk.

“With planning permission due to expire this year, many outstanding issues remain, including spiralling construction costs and doubts around funding the maintenance of the bridge.

“The funding gap is now at over £70m and it appears unlikely that the Trust will succeed in raising the private funds required for the project.

“I am simply not prepared to risk a situation where the taxpayer has to step in and contribute significant additional amounts to ensure the project is completed.”

from The UK Construction Blog http://ukconstructionblog.co.uk/2017/05/02/london-mayor-pulls-plug-on-garden-bridge/

Hinkley builders could earn £60,000 each a year

Construction workers at the £18bn Hinkley Point construction site are on course to be the best paid builders in the industry.

We understand that pay talks have set the bar at nearly £60,000 a year for full-time builders on the site.

Talks are currently ongoing between main contractor joint venture Bouygues Travaux Publics/Laing O’Rourke and the construction unions.

And the industry’s ongoing skills shortage means the unions are in a strong position.

One source close to the talks said: “This is the biggest construction site in the country and everyone wants to get it built on time.

“The unions know that and any pay deal will be better than the one at Heathrow T5 where everyone made sure people were paid industry leading rates to get the job done.”

from The UK Construction Blog http://ukconstructionblog.co.uk/2017/04/26/hinkley-builders-could-earn-60000-each-a-year/