28th April Journal Column

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

 Construction Alliance Northeast (CAN), which represents the interests of over 500 SME companies in the regional construction and contracting sector, recently launched its Construction Charter. The aim of CAN’s charter is to create awareness about the need to re-think public procurement strategy so that regional SMEs get a better chance to compete for contracts in the open market.

The companies CAN represents have a combined turnover of some £3 billion and employ more than 10,000 people – a group well placed to make a significant contribution to regional GDP. 

While Constructing Excellence in the North East represents the interests of all regional construction-related companies, it is a platform for industry improvement and we are big on collaboration, so I am encouraged by the kind of improvements that the charter calls for.  It’s encouraging to see that some regional public sector bodies are already taking steps to implement fairer procurement policies which put local companies first whenever possible.

CAN’s Construction Charter sets out a six-point plan for public sector procurement reform, highlighting the need for a greater focus in tender documentation on increasing local contractor participation, the inclusion of social, economic and environmental considerations, particularly on carbon footprint reduction and the eco benefits of using regional rather than national contractors.

It calls for ‘intelligent procurement practice’, which sounds like common sense, but it has not always been possible for regional public sector bodies to operate in this way due to government directives. For example, during the recession the creation of national frameworks led to many smaller, regional construction firms being locked out and a number went out of business. 

 Next month the North East Procurement Organisation’s (NEPO) Building Construction Framework and its related supply chain will be re-tendered – one of the biggest opportunities for regional firms.  NEPO’s Michael Curtis has been consulting heavily with industry bodies to ensure intelligent procurement practice gives regional firms more chance to win a place on the framework this time.

 he North East LEP is also developing a multidisciplinary construction strategy for the North East to support its North East Strategic Economic Plan (SEP).  The SEP recognises the importance to the region of infrastructure, new homes and work space so a cohesive approach to construction is essential if the target of 100,000 new and better jobs is to be achieved by 2024. 

We all want to see a healthy and sustainable regional economy.  With the UK’s departure from the EU it is just the right time to turn up the volume about intelligent procurement practice.  Sunderland City Council is the first local authority to have signed up to CAN’s new charter, so the first steps are already being taken to reform procurement, I look forward to seeing more following in their footsteps.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

21st April Journal Article

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

By now we should all be aware of offsite construction, but for those of you that aren’t, offsite construction is a modern way of building that sees the unit being constructed offsite in a factory-controlled environment. The building is then delivered to the site where the ground works and foundations will have been prepared.

Last year, the Construction Leadership Council commissioned Mark Farmer to undertake a review of the UK’s construction labour model. The report stated that pre-fab housing is the way forward when it comes to producing more affordable homes to regenerate the property market, and I couldn’t agree more.  

Earlier this month, H+H UK Ltd and SIG Offsite launched i-house, a new house building system which sees homes built in just five days. The system provides all the speed of offsite construction with the familiarity of a traditional build, going from foundations to roof in five short days.

The system can encompass the inner leaves of external cavity walls, floors, lintel, cavity closers, insulation and roof trusses. With the inclusion of soffit and fascia, it delivers the internal skin of a property, fully wrapped and ready for follow-on trades. It really can do it all, with only one contactor required to deliver the whole house shell. It can be used on the construction of domestic houses of up to two storey height, replacing the structure of the inner leaf of external cavity walls, separating walls and internal partitions with storey height Celcon Elements. They are Installed by the SIG Offsite team and Celcon Elements are craned into place and fixed using H+H element mortar.

Off-site construction has many benefits compared to traditional build; it is safer, more efficient and has the potential to greatly minimise on-site waste. With many offsite projects all happening under the same roof, it also means it’s easier to take inventory of leftover materials and use them on other projects, as opposed to other methods where surplus would be dumped in the recycle bin. This is a much better way of preventing waste and reducing unnecessary costs.

This method of construction now widely used in the housing and education sector and it could be just what we’re looking for when it comes to how we ease the housing crisis in the UK.

‘Prefabs’ are now a strong, reliable way of building homes, a complete 360 degree from the 1940s when cheap, flimsy units were built to address the home shortage. Regardless of the quality, pre-fabricated homes helped solve the crisis back then, so there’s nothing stopping them working now.  Reuters has reported that housebuilders including Berkeley, Taylor Wimpey, and Persimmon have said they are either considering or planning new developments of prefabricated homes. Who knows, in a few years, traditional builds might all be a thing of the past.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

14th April Journal Column

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

A new fund has been launched to kick-start developments across the North East where affordable housing is still in short supply. The £10 million North-East Property Fund has been launched to provide a vital boost for the industry in our region.

It has been created in response to the huge demand from SME construction and property development companies who are unable to access mainstream finance from traditional sources. It’s hoped that the fund will help enhance development in smaller scale property ventures across the region. It will give smaller construction firms the confidence to pursue projects to build vital new housing, meaning we’ll have more firms building, which is exactly what we need!

Loans ranging from £250,000 to £1 million for non-speculative residential and commercial developments in Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham are available, with repayment terms between nine and 18 months. The fund aims to finance the build of over 300 new homes and finance the development of around 4,000 square metres of commercial space. This is forecast to contribute to in excess of £25m to the regional economy, creating or safeguarding over 600 local jobs – a win-win situation all round!

The idea for the fund came from FW Capital who will now manage the North-East Property Fund. It is backed by Santander and the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and held by NPF 2016 Ltd.

The Housing White Paper published earlier this year scrutinised the housing market, stating that it was simply broken. As 60 per cent of new homes are built by just 10 companies, which really isn’t a lot, the government agreed to back more small independent builders through the £3 billion Home Building Fund. Since the 1970s, an average of 160,000 homes a year have been built in England, that’s 115,000 less than what is needed now to keep up with the country’s growing population and catch up with years of under supply.

In the North East, an estimated 6,440 homes were built last year against an annual target of 9,000 and only 1,420 of the 3,800 target for affordable homes were built. It’s promising to see such a bold initiative that is confronting the urgent need to deliver more new-build properties head on. There’s no false promises and unachievable goals, it’s an initiative that could really work, and I’m excited to see how it all unfolds.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

7th April Journal Column

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

When you think about tech-driven industries, I doubt that construction is the first that comes to mind. In the past, we’ve had a reputation for being slow to adapt to the digital age, but over recent years, the smart building tech industry has grown significantly with more and more companies accepting technology advances.

 

It’s been almost a year since the Building Information Modelling (BIM) Level 2 mandate came into play and the industry has seen far more engagement towards technology. People are finally accepting BIM and seeing the potential benefits that the digital world can bring to construction. For a long time, construction was one of the least automated industries around, but we’re slowly but surely catching up. Digital solutions are being used in all areas of the industry, we’re moving away from paper trails and manual building and towards online solutions, new technology and robots that can do the job for us.

Lucion Services, a North-East construction safety and risk management company has partnered with Northumbria University to develop a new digital way of managing asbestos. They are launching a new app to directly connect building plans and drawings with data from asbestos surveys and laboratory analysis information.

The NexGen app forms part of a new approach to BIM systems and is being carried out as part of an Innovate UK knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) project. The software will present a 3D image of a building, floor-by-floor, room-by-room, allowing users and surveyors to flag up the presence of asbestos or other safety hazards more accurately and efficiently. The app should reduce human error, eliminating the risk of mistakes made with traditional paper-based plans and problems associated with the inspection of buildings.

Lucion’s current NexGen BIM database already allows users to access asbestos and building safety information, including site survey reports and historical data. Linking this to the 3D visualisation of sites, buildings and individual rooms will bring new levels of detail for more accurate risk management considerations.

The Health and Safety Executive estimates that past exposures in the construction sector annually cause over 5,000 occupational cancer cases and 3,700 deaths. The most significant cause of these cancers is asbestos. Because of the potential risks associated with exposure to asbestos, it is important that clear information is provided to everyone involved.

The management of asbestos is still very much an issue which must always be kept in mind, especially in the North East since we still have a lot of old buildings where the use of asbestos in one form or another was very common. Britain might have one of the best health and safety systems in the world, but when it comes to health and safety you can never stop improving. So, I imagine an easier way to discover and manage asbestos will definitely be welcomed, and even better that it helps bring us up to speed with the digital age.

31st March Journal Column

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

On Wednesday (29 March) Theresa May triggered Article 50 and officially started the process for Britain to leave the EU. As we prepare for a ramp up in the industry, ensuring we are stronger than ever, we also need to ensure that the need to increase the quantity of work doesn’t impact the quality of work that is produced.

The government is doing a lot to increase the number of new houses including more affordable housing; but housing quantity cannot be separated from housing quality. People want to live in a desirable home, not just any housing. Poor design is a huge barrier and that’s where problems begin. Not everything can be left to the government, the industry must also play its part in fixing the housing problem, by coming up with new approaches to help councils deliver new homes faster and at a better quality.

As recent reports show, some house builders have taken advantage of the seller’s market. Poor workmanship and reluctance to put it right were highlighted in a report last year from an All-Party Parliamentary Group of MPs and in a number news reports since – all portraying an image of construction we’re desperately working to get away from.

An unbalanced focus on building quantity rather than quality new-builds means we’re in danger of causing more harm than good with housing. We need to set realistic goals to prevent homes being rushed to meet targets and focus more on profitability and less on the number of completions to ensure homes aren’t rushed to meet end of year targets. If the government tries to push too much, there will inevitably be compromises in terms of both quality and design.

Within the first two years of a home purchase the housebuilder is responsible for rectifying defects, then a 10-year warranty issued by a provider will begin. It’s in both the housebuilders and warranty providers best interest to ensure the house is built to a high standard and that there is a thorough inspection of the stages of work, to keep costs low. If something major goes wrong after the build is complete, the warranty provider would have to pay for this to be corrected.

People need security to plan for the future and having a home that is well built plays a big part in that. We need to build more homes, make sure they’re the type of homes that people want to live in, all while keeping the quality high. Building homes that nobody wants is a waste of time and money that could be better used elsewhere. After all, quantity is merely something we count, quality is something you can count on.