27th May Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Last week saw the Queen deliver her speech for the State Opening of Parliament for 2016-2017. The speech sets out the government’s plans for the next few years, some of which we know might not happen, but it gives us insight into which direction we are heading.

A Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill has been announced, which is wiping the requirements for developers to carry out archaeological and wildlife surveys before starting new housing projects. Pre-commencement planning conditions will now only be imposed by local planning authorities when necessary.

The new regulations, or lack of them, will hopefully speed up the process of building new homes. A lot of the time planning conditions are overused, and in most cases, misused, with planning permission granted anyway, so it’s just a long and gruelling process to get there, meaning the process of constructing new homes is slowed right down. There are also plans to make compulsory purchase, the power to purchase privately owned land or property for public use, ‘clearer, fairer and faster’, which again will speed up the process of buying land and building new houses – which is never a bad thing!

The bill is to support the government’s plans to deliver a million new homes by 2020. For me, the idea of one million new homes sounds amazing but it is very ambitious, so anything that will help us hit that target I am fully in support of.

The National Infrastructure Commission, which was established by George Osborne last year, will be put on a statutory basis and given the task of setting out a “clear, strategic vision on the future infrastructure that is needed to ensure the economy is fit for 2050,” which is a huge step forward for the commission.

The government’s decision to establish the National Infrastructure Commission as independent from government, gives the body the ability to assess the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs, identify the best way to respond, and then deliver projects that are both time and cost efficient.

The Queen also promised that the government will continue to support the development of the Northern Powerhouse, which is what we want to hear!

It’s going to be another year or so until we start to say change in the industry in the North East thanks to the Northern Powerhouse. In 2017 we’ll see elected mayors in the Northern regions and local control over housing and transport, so who knows what’s going to happen next year.

All in all, the Queen delivered good news for the industry, in particular house builders, I’m excited to see the new bills and plans put into action and see what the next year holds for the industry.

 

26th May 2016 Newsletter

To view this week’s newsletter including an article about PlanArch Design being nominated for LABC Awards and also information about Sponsorship opportunities for the Charity Race-Day please click here.

20th May Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The Court of Appeal has backed the government’s decision to waive affordable housing requirements for small developments.
The decision, which has of course been welcomed by the Federation of Masters Builders (FMB) and SMEs across the country, means that for developments of 10 homes or fewer, local councils cannot impose affordable housing or Section 106 contributions.

Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 enables local planning authorities to seek contributions from developers to provide affordable housing and mitigate the impact of developments.

The housing minister first announced the news in November 2014, but West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council quickly joined forces to challenge the proposal, meaning the case was dragged through the courts, going back and forth for the past two years. The High Court first quashed the plans to exempt developments of less than 10 homes last year, but then the government appealed and the Court of Appeal finally overturned the High Court’s decision last week (11 May) – and about time too!

The government have criticised the decision by the councils to take legal action, calling it a waste of tax payers’ money and I completely agree with housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis, when he said it just restores common sense to the system. It now means that builders don’t suffer just because they’re developing smaller sites.

The decision will back SME house builders, which I have been fully supportive of for many years. Not only will it make it much easier for small scale developments, but it should put SME house builders at ease. There are many small sites which builders are keen in developing, but they are put off by the Section 106 charges, which is a shame for the housing market.

The councils could have used the time and money it’s taken over the past two years, to support new housebuilding in areas where it is very much needed. The contributions have stopped the potential development of a huge number of small sites, which could have played a massive part in helping us reach the 275,000 affordable homes needed by 2020.

The new threshold will protect small developments from unaffordable, unnecessary requirements, meaning they can finally get back to what they’re good at, building small, sustainable developments.

19th May 2016 Newsletter

To view this week’s newsletter about the upcoming Awards that the CENE team are attending and the events that are forthcoming including our Charity Race-Day in conjunction with Foundation for Light and the Sir Bobby Robson foundation please click here.

13th May Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve always been a supporter of encouraging young people into the construction industry and I thought we’d finally got to a place where people realised the importance our young people have in the future of our industry. However, results of the latest YouGov poll found that two-thirds of the public would not consider a career in construction, with only 17 per cent saying they would consider it.

At a time when the industry is falling short of talent, and we have a gap of 100,000 workers with around 250,000 existing workers that need retaining over the next five years, it seems we have our work cut out to change the public’s perception of the industry.

Major infrastructure projects planned for this year are threatened by the skills shortage, meaning vital works on roads, rail and energy is likely to be affected – so something needs to be done.

The survey, carried out on behalf of the Construction United group, also found that more than half of the public used words such as ‘strenuous’ or ‘dirty’ to describe work carried out in the construction industry, with only a disappointing 11 per cent describing it as ‘exciting’. Having worked in the industry for several years now, I can say first hand that the industry can be very exciting!

Most people who work in construction actually love it, we’re just not very good at expressing that message and the government aren’t doing enough to promote that it’s not all dirty work!

The image people have in their head is not a true representation of how the industry is today. We’ve come a long way in terms of technology and skills, and the generic public just aren’t aware of the reality of construction today.

It was disappointing to see that the industry isn’t seen in a particularly academic light, with 41 per cent thinking it is one of the least likely sectors to require higher or further education. The industry now has the skills and resources to train and educate, and those who have gone through apprenticeships are some of the smartest people I know.

I am 100 per cent behind supporting new recruits, particularly students and young people. I believe that the youth of today hold the future of our industry in their hands, so why wouldn’t we encourage them into the industry by showing them just how amazing construction can be?

If we give them a true representation of what they can expect, and what the industry is like, then we’ve done all we can and it’s down to them to decide if construction is right for them.

The government should be doing more with regards to promotion of the industry to inform parents/school career advisors and pupils that there are many professions within the construction industry, it’s not just hard hats and muddy boots.

12th May 2016 Newsletter

To view this week’s newsletter and information on up-coming events in the run-up to the CENE 2016 Awards please click here.

15th April 2016 Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The looming EU referendum is already affecting the industry, despite a decision not having been made yet, and it’s only going to get worse as the referendum vote draws closer.

The government have claimed that major announcements and new pieces of legislation have been put on hold until the summer, until the decision about the EU has been made. And because nobody knows what’s around the corner, numerous contractors and subcontractor orders have been put on hold in our industry.

Smaller firms, that struggled to survive the recession, will be hit hard whatever the outcome of the vote, with experts warning that it could take a year for the industry’s workload to recover. A year is a long time to wait for work to pick back up, especially when they are only just getting over the impact the recession.

What we don’t want to happen, is for the industry to start falling behind and get off to a slow start, regardless of the outcome. We need work to carry on as normal, particularly in the housing sector, with the government’s plans for 2020 quickly creeping up on us.

What’s happening is almost a repeat of what happened during the Scottish independence poll. In the months leading up to it, the number of projects being granted planning approval fell by £234m compared to the year before.

We’ve already seen examples of the industry going this way leading up to the referendum, with the Markit results, mentioned in previous weeks, showing that the industry is growing at its slowest pace in two years.

The unpredictability of what’s to come means people are cautious and unable to make final decisions. New projects aren’t being started and companies are finding it hard to get financial backing. I understand the fear of the unknown, but the industry still needs to carry on, jobs need doing and people still need to work.

BBC research shows that business support for EU membership decreases with the size of the business. Of those with over 250 employees, 74.7 per cent are in favour of staying in the EU, but for smaller businesses, it’s only 60 per cent. Small businesses haven’t been happy with EU regulation for a long time, but unfortunately it’s smaller businesses that will be hit hardest should we leave the EU and they need to prepare for that.

Luckily the industry is in a much stronger position than it was a few years ago, and had the referendum took place then, the effects on the industry would have been catastrophic. Regardless of the outcome, I think we have the power to bounce back, maybe not as quickly as we may have liked, but I’m confident things will work out in the end.

6th May 2016 Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

The construction industry provides huge social value opportunities for local communities, the local economy and the environment. Social value is the notion of a contract being awarded to a company based on the impact the agreement will have on the wider community, rather than just the price being the lowest.

The Social Value act, which was introduced in 2013, requires industry workers to focus on what they can do to create social value opportunities. The industry can provide plenty of social value, but it’s often hard to define and report, which is where the new Building Social Value (BSV) comes in.

BSV is a new, simpler way to report on the social value opportunities created through construction, launched by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) for all CCS-registered sites, companies and suppliers to use. It is influential in providing criteria around how effective contractors are in creating long term social value.

BSV will provide clients, the public and the industry as a whole with a better understanding of the extent to which a particular construction project has created opportunities for long-term social value.

Social value now plays a central role in all procurement activity and having a consistent and robust way to measure outcomes has always been a challenge, but hopefully that should soon change. Before starting the procurement process, commissioners should think about how the services they are going to buy, or the way they are going to buy them, will benefit their area or stakeholders.

This new way of evaluating can deliver a consistent approach, strengthen competitive advantage in tendering, support the planning process and enhance corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. BSV should provide the means for a third party to evaluate the social value produced by construction sites quickly.

Monitors from the scheme will visit building sites and record the social value created, using a social value monitoring checklist. They will then write up a BSV report based on their findings, so that a track of social value in regards to each company or each individual project can always be found.

Completing the report allows contractors and clients to recognise that gaining a professional, third-party report will help them to evaluate the impact of their construction sites in creating social value for the wider community.

There’s no longer a need for trial and error, maybe that will create social value, maybe it won’t – contractors will now have records of what works and what doesn’t, which in the long run will cut costs, time and impact communities more than ever before.

BSV really adds confidence, for workers, clients and the community that projects are delivering on promises to the community. Knowing a project is about more than just building a building will hopefully be uplifting to workers – knowing you’re helping something/someone and giving a little back is never a bad thing.

5th May 2016 Newsletter

To view this weeks newsletter and read about ELAS’ new Sub-contractor package and information about the CHUF Duathalon in support of the Children’s Heart Unit fund for Freeman Hospital please click here.