Construction National

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Last updateTue, 24 May 2022 10am

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

Even the railway company is building homes, but there still aren’t enough

Construction National blog logoThe housebuilding industry is once more the focus of attention in the construction sphere. After a number of months during which there was a general air of self-satisfaction that a combination of government initiatives and the beginnings of a recovery had resulted in a gradual upward shift in activity, along comes the RICS with dire warnings of a widening gulf between supply and demand.

A greater willingness on the part of lenders to “increase loan to values on mortgage products” is cited as a driver in the surge of interest from buyers, but according to the RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn: “In spite of this, the amount of homes currently up for sale is still nowhere near enough to keep up with demand and – in order for the market to function correctly – this imbalance urgently needs to be addressed.

Read more: Even the railway company is building homes, but there still aren’t enough

And the winner is…the construction industry

Construction National blog logoIt’s that time of year again, when awards are awarded and competitions competed in. The biggest deal in the past couple of weeks was the presentation of the Construction Industry Awards themselves, at the Grosvenor Hotel on 9 October.

The big building project award – for those valued at over £50m – went to perhaps the capital’s most notable new building of recent years: The Shard. Renzo Piano’s latest masterpiece has used up all the superlatives, so I won’t use any.

At the other end of the scale was the gong for Building Project of the Year for a project valued at up to £3m was for the gorgeous new Henry King Chapel at Ripon College in Oxford, which was also shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.

The most outlandish-looking project won the International Award, for “projects outside the UK for which one or more UK-based British firms have made a significant contribution”. That was the British Antarctic Survey’s Halley Research Station on the Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Wow!

Check out New Civil Engineer for pictures of all the award winners.

• Another prizegiving this month was that of the Structural Concrete competition, supported by the Mineral Products Association, the Concrete Centre, the Institution of Structural Engineers and Laing O’Rourke. It is a design competition for civil and structural engineering students. This year’s competition called for the design of a luxury residential building that formed part of the extensive redevelopment of an industrial site close to the centre of a large UK town.

First prize and sustainability prize were awarded to a team from Imperial College London, while the winners of the second prize were from the University of Southampton.

Next year's competition, for which entries are now open, will require entrants to produce a design for a school building within an existing school development in the suburbs of a large UK city. The brief for the competition includes a range of specifications that must be adhered to, as well as a precise description of the ‘site’ and its conditions, imposing constraints upon the entrants, who must “respond as though they are the structural engineer responsible within the consultant’s team”.

• Entries are also now open for the 2014 Greenbuild Awards. As the name implies, the awards celebrate “truly green buildings that show the project teams are serious about sustainability”.

These awards are for actual buildings that have been constructed, and entrants must show that they live up to the green aspirations of their design while actually in use. One of the seminars at this year’s Greenbuild Expo featured an entertaining sidelight on how and why some buildings with marvellous specs fail to deliver the carbon footprint to which they aspire – usually because the people in them don’t behave as they are supposed to!

Chris Stokes

Prize winners figure large, but no deal for the Green Deal among landlords

Construction National blog logoThe big story this week has been the announcement of Astley Castle in Warwickshire as the winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize. What, you may be thinking, is a 12th-century fortified manor house doing winning the UK’s most prestigious prize for new architecture? Has there been some kind of rent in the space/time continuum? Has 5D BIM finally conquered time travel?

Read more: Prize winners figure large, but no deal for the Green Deal among landlords

There’s good news on the jobs front, and a deal of green flag waving

Construction National blog logoThere has been further good news for the construction industry in the past couple of weeks – at least in terms of the housebuilding sector. The latest NHBC rolling quarter figures – from May to July – show a staggering 30% increase on the same quarter last year. Of course, the same caveat applies as did to the figures from the Mortgage Advice Bureau covered in my last column – we are starting from a very low base, so an absence of growth would be a disaster. It may well be that the particular quarter under consideration accounts for a large leap that is not being sustained.

Read more: There’s good news on the jobs front, and a deal of green flag waving