The Environmental Impact of Concrete

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

Concrete is the most widely used man-made material in existence. It is second only to water as the most-consumed resource on the planet. But, while it may have shaped most of our built environment, it also has a huge carbon footprint.

According to Chatham House, cement is the source of about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. To put that into perspective, if the cement industry was a country, it would be the third largest emitter in the world. It contributes more CO2 than aviation fuel and isn’t far behind the global agriculture business. Following this research, architects have been urged to reconsider their use of concrete given that the UK has set a 2050 target to reduce its carbon emissions to 80% less than it was in 1990, so we need to be doing everything we can.

It’s no surprise that cement is so widely used, it’s a remarkably good construction material. A mix of sand, gravel, a cement binder and water, concrete is widely embraced by architects, structural engineers, developers and builders. It’s affordable, which is always a bonus, and you can produce it almost anywhere. Perhaps it’s not about reducing how much cement we use but more looking into how it is produced. Research from Chatham House found that more than 50% of emissions are linked to the process for producing clinker, one of the main ingredients involved in the manufacture of cement. There are alternatives to cement such as the waste from steel production, although there is not a huge supply. Obviously, I don’t think we need to stop using it, but I do think the industry needs to take this into consideration and industry workers need to be more efficient when using it.

The IPCC’s latest report warned that the world has just 12 years left to moderate CO2 emissions and halt devastating global warming, so it’s not just a case of ‘trying’ to be green, it’s getting pretty serious and I certainly don’t want our industry to be the one of the main causes given everything we’ve been doing over the years to improve.

We recognise that we work in one of the biggest industries in the world, and because of what we do, we have potential to cause a lot of damage but that means we also have the most potential to make a difference on protecting the environment. Companies are always thinking of new innovative ways of being efficient and we’ve really stepped up our game in the last few years. Offsite construction is now becoming the norm, we’ve got PopUp Houses, plastic roads, even a ‘bubble’ building here in Newcastle, all of which are slowly making a difference.  While the aesthetics of a building are still important, we need to consider the materials we’re using and their wider impact – hopefully we’re all in agreement on that.

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.

What can we expect for 2019?

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

Happy New Year to you all – I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas break and are raring to get started. I cannot believe it’s 2019 and another new year is ahead of us, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 12 months have in store– I think it’s certainly going to be a busy one! While you can never predict exactly what the year ahead holds, there are a few things I expect to see, Brexit being the biggest change, but I won’t hold my breath on that.

Let’s start with a positive. The Construction Products Association (CPA) predict that output will accelerate in by 2.3% in 2019 and 1.9% 2020. House-building is forecast to be the primary driver of growth for the whole industry. In private housing, first-time buyer demand, enabled by the government’s Help to Buy scheme, continues to boost sentiment and encourage an increase in housebuilding activity outside London. There are ambitious housebuilding targets both in the public and private sectors. But luckily, we are seeing growing interest in offsite manufacture, digital and sustainable construction. Compared to other industries we’ve been slow to adapt to the digital age, but the smart building tech industry has grown significantly, and the pace of change is now inevitable.

For many years we’ve struggled with a skills shortage and with less people coming into the industry we’re now struggling with an ageing workforce. Organisations that can attract and retain a young workforce are likely to score well in bid processes, as they can provide some evidence on delivery capability. As budgets get tighter, clients are looking to added value within bids as a way of getting something extra. Monetising your added-value benefits is important to demonstrate the financial value and there can be other benefits too – social value, for example, which is obviously a really big deal. Certainly, things to think about going into the year.

The North East industry had a good 2018 with many of our projects/companies being recognised at the National Constructing Excellence Awards. Seven of our entries came away as winners or highly commended, it was a very good night for the North East, one I’m extremely proud of.

We’ve overcome some tough challenges in the last year alone and that only proves to me that this industry can achieve anything! The demise of Carillion resulted in a poor performance for the industry at the start of last year, which combined with the bad weather, was estimated to have lost UK construction £1bn in productivity, surely 2019 can get off to a better start.  So, let’s get our heads down and have a good year – bring it on 2019, we’re ready for you!

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.

A look back over 2018

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

It’s that time of year again when everywhere you look there are reviews of the last 12 months and predictions of what we can expect from the year ahead. If I had to summarise what 2018 was like for our industry, I would say three things- progressive, amazing and bloomin’ hard work!

A new year is a natural point in time to stop, assess how things have gone over the past 12 months, look at everything that we’ve achieved and look at what we can do better in the coming year. While you can never predict exactly what the year ahead holds, I’m sure we all had a few things in mind, the outcome of Brexit being the main one, yet here we are one year later and still pretty much none the wiser. Instead, we got the collapse of Carillion, a never-ending winter and little Grenfell resolution.

We had the alarming statistics that 56% of female respondents to Building’s survey on women in construction had experienced sexual harassment and 33% been discriminated against on the grounds of sex in the previous 12 months. The gender pay gap report in April confirmed the disappointing news that most women in the industry work in low-paid roles. We also had the really scary news that low-skilled male construction workers are almost four times more likely to take their own lives than the national average, with the number of suicides in construction now six times higher than deaths caused by falls from height.

We didn’t get off to the best start of the year with snow and ice sticking around until the end of March, causing problems for the industry’s output in the first quarter. But eventually output picked up and the government published the Construction Sector Deal, which was the biggest investment in the industry in a decade, something we’d all been longing for. The deal, worth £420m aims to transform the industry by investing in new technologies to increase productivity and tackle the housing crisis. It supports the development of affordable, easy to construct homes and commits to increasing the number of apprenticeships starts and T Level placements.

Last month, the chancellor gave the final Budget before Brexit and it made some small adjustments but lacked bold, long-term commitments, which I think we all expected. I feel like I’ve been saying this year in year out, but with the fallout of Brexit still looming, who knows what next year holds. So, there’s just one thing left for me to say, from all of us at Constructing Excellence in the North East, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year. Let’s see what 2019 has in store for us – one thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be a quiet one.

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.

Industry precautions when working in bad weather

If you thought last winter was cold, I’ve got bad news for you. This winter is expected to be the coldest for ten years.

According to weather forecasters Exacta Weather, temperatures are expected to fall well below average with things getting even worse in the New Year with widespread snowfall, icy storms and high winds. In the winter, strong winds, cold temperatures, snow and rain have the potential to cause serious hazards for workers in the industry, both regarding disruption to current building projects and possible damage to existing buildings that may not meet current wind and snow load standards.

External walls and roofs not designed to withstand such extreme weather demands could suffer severe damage. However, with preventative action the extent of such damage can be lessened, according to UK leading roofing and cladding specialists, CA Group Ltd. Over the past couple of years, we have witnessed changing weather intensity with severe flooding, record summer temperatures, early snowfall and now we’re facing a potentially harsh winter. Such unpredictable situations can prove costly, severely impacting timeframes on new builds and refurbishment projects and putting older buildings under much pressure.  Traditionally, buildings were designed with local climates in mind and not for worse-case and unpredictable weather, which means they are more susceptible to weather damage. This is much less of an issue for new builds which tend to be better designed, better equipped and much more capable of responding to extreme weather.

Poor specifications can lead to poor installations – resulting in major failures. Ridge and verge flashings that have ripped off the building are some of the most common faults and can often prove costly. Bull nose features at eaves and verges, unless correctly designed and correctly installed with adequate fasteners, are prone to failure.  Ridges, corners and edges of a building are most susceptible to high winds.  It is therefore crucial for project-specific calculations to be undertaken to establish the loads, complete with full design data for the cladding systems and details, or the buildings envelope will not be designed to withstand the wind loads in the concentrated areas.

In anticipation of the bad weather, there are preventative measures that can be taken. Something as simple as introducing snow guards and measures to manually remove the snow can prevent serious accidents but my one piece of advice would just be prepared for the weather or work with a company who knows how to deal with it.  CA Group work to establish structural standards, load capacities and risk analysis to provide a thorough assessment of a building’s needs over its life, taking into account snow, wind pressure, location and altitude. Working from such an informed position results in a much higher quality build, with the likelihood of weather damage being far less.

For further guidance please contact CA Group Ltd on technical@cagroup.co.uk

£72m given to technical industry research

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

The government has approved £72m for industry research into technical innovation. The Core Innovation Hub is part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, it will transform the industry by supporting the development and use of technologies such as digital design, advanced manufacturing, robotics, drones and augmented and virtual reality.

Following a nationwide competition as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the government, through UK Research and Innovation, awarded the funding to the Transforming Construction Alliance, a partnership between the Manufacturing Technology Centre, BRE and Cambridge University’s Centre for Digital Built Britain.

The increased use of technology will enable the industry to design and build faster, cheaper and more sustainably – which is exactly what we all want. Smart sensors and digital systems will be incorporated into buildings and infrastructure, so they can manage and maintain themselves – and the data they gather will enable the government and industry to make our towns and cities better places to live, work and travel in.

As an industry, we have historically been slower than others in maximising the opportunities arising from innovation. Understanding innovation’s value is so important in a fast-moving business climate where markets and technologies are continually evolving. While we have worked hard to keep up with the changes and challenges if we do not now focus on embedding innovation in our businesses and across the industry, there is a risk that we will be left behind and become uncompetitive. The Core Innovation Hub is there to ensure this does not happen and that the industry meets the challenges it could face. It will be a constant helping hand and reminder that we need to put innovation in the heart of everything we do. It plays an essential role in delivering increased sector productivity by accelerating industry innovation. It will enable businesses to develop and validate new products and manufacturing and assembly processes and will leverage investment into UK offsite manufacturing capability.

Modern technologies will be the cornerstone of construction sector reform to increase productivity, efficiency and quality of delivery. However, for change to happen, new cultures and ways of working need to be driven from the top; leaders of companies large and small need to ‘think digital’ in everything they do. Constructing Excellence in the North East are holding an event with the Construction Industry Training Board and Generation for Change about the opportunities and challenges of digital construction technologies. The ‘Unlocking Constructions Digital Future’ event on Thursday 31 January, will include speakers from; CITB, BIM Strategy, Kier and Space. The event will look at:

  • How to increase your awareness of digital construction techniques
  • Future digital construction technologies
  • The implications for construction skills and training
  • Funding available to digitally upskill your workforce.

To register for this event please contact Grace Collinson on 0191 500 7880 or grace@cene.org.uk

Procuring for Value

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

Earlier this year, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) called for an outcome based, transparent and efficient industry in its Procuring for Value report.

The report outlined how the industry needs to change to improve productivity, end user satisfaction and safeguard those in the industry, providing recommendations on how government, clients and the industry can develop a brand-new approach to procurement. Bringing construction productivity up to the national average would deliver an extra £15bn of value each year. We need to get clients away from just accepting the lowest bids regardless of quality and the report suggests ways of doing that. It recommends the development of an industry-wide definition of value that takes into account more than just capital cost.

It advocates the production of new forms of contracts that reduce the role of lawyers in the industry. What tends to happen is that most companies hand over the responsibility of administration of contracts to legal advisors with an enormous focus on the theoretical transfer of risk downwards, rather than the placement of risk. Failure to fully understand obligations under the contract, coupled with commercial pressures exerted to ignore the contract (payment terms being the best example of this) create a very uncertain landscape in which some construction activity takes place. The lack of contractual recognition of the whole-life value and the failure to incorporate whole-life risks mean that there is a growing view that current industry forms of contract will not meet future requirements. Contractual models need to be versatile enough to accommodate changes in the sector such as offsite manufacturing, BIM and other advances in technology.

This is the perfect opportunity to make the next generation of contracts cloud based. A contract that creates a living set of priced risks where every relationship has transparency. We need to investigate how contractual forms within the built environment can become digitally enabled and SMART-cloud based to introduce transparency and whole-life project focus.

Based on how the industry has always delivered, the current forms just won’t facilitate innovations, so something needs to change. Construction needs to change. Ann Bentley urges ‘every rung of the supply chain to take responsibility and understand their impact on the industry and the larger financial picture that is at play’ and the report highlights as an industry how we can do just this.

The report builds on the 2016 Farmer Review and proposes steps to implement the construction sector deal by extending existing government policy and industry best practice.

Constructing Excellence in the North East are holding an event on Procuring for Value, looking at the report and what the industry can be doing. It will feature talks from Ann Bentley, Global Director at Rider Levett Bucknall, and Procuring for Value lead for the Construction Leadership Council and Rob Charlton, CEO, Space Group.

 

To register for this event please contact Grace on 0191 5007880 or grace@cene.org.uk

The Rising Threat of Fraud in the Industry

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

Over the last few years, the rules surrounding the Construction Skills Certification Scheme card have changed a lot, which means the way fraudsters are working have changed a lot too.

Before 2014, the procedure for obtaining a construction skills card bearing the CSCS logo was relatively straightforward. You could go to the CITB test centre, sit their health, safety and environment test, pass the test and have a card within 48 hours. But as the rules have changed, going as far as chips and ghost marks as well as requiring qualification certificates to be sent into CSCS as part of an application, fraudsters have evolved.

The CITB fraud team have stepped up their search recently as the industry is being targeted more by human traffickers and organised crime rings, due to it being relatively low-risk but high reward. On most of the cases the CITB fraud team are working on, they found that perpetrators using counterfeit skills cards and qualifications often have ties with organised crime groups that are linked to trafficking and modern slavery. One ongoing case has shown that facilitators are making £50,000 – £60,000 a week on this type of activity. There have also been instances where illegally trafficked people found to be in possession of fake cards will admit they didn’t take the test and they sent their photo as part of a package before leaving their country of origin. It really is as organised and calculated as that, and it needs to stop.

It is currently difficult to estimate the number of individuals working with fraudulently obtained skills cards, but the CITB fraud manager, Ian Sidney, believes it is only a small proportion. However, even if it’s just 1 or 2% that’s still too many, that’s hundreds or thousands of people who aren’t trained and are putting themselves and others in danger when working on site.

Clearly, this is not an issue the industry can tackle alone, but there are ways in which we can help. Cards can now be read electronically, something all site managers should be doing. This will alert them to a situation where fraud has been detected and a card cancelled. I understand that a lot of sites still operate with a visual inspection, but that’s where things need to change. We’re all creatures of habit but if it’s going to help with bigger criminal cases, it’s something we need to be doing to protect our industry. The way in which CSCS operates has been radically overhauled in the last seven years and we should be moving with them. The CSCS are now in a position where pretty much all cards are being issued on the basis of a qualification and by 2020, they all will be – so with more effort from industry workers, we should definitely see a change in the next few years.

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.

The Skill Mill – giving young offenders a second chance

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

Research shows that ex-offenders who manage to find employment are less likely to re-offend. Given the skills shortage, our industry could be an ideal place to teach them the skills they need to get into employment.

There are a number of programmes across the country looking at young offender intervention, and The Skill Mill is one that was home-grown. It started here in the North East and has since grown around the country. The Skill Mill is a Not for Profit Social Enterprise providing employment opportunities for young people aged 16-18. It was established to combine the provision of high quality and cost-effective outdoor work with maximum social impact.

The young employees undertake accredited training and achieve a nationally recognised qualification. They acquire knowledge and skills by working alongside local private contractors and partners. The first site was set up in Newcastle in 2014 and has since expanded to Liverpool, Leeds, Durham and North Yorkshire. Each site takes on four young people for 6 months, paying them minimum wage. It gives them real work experience, a nationally recognised qualification and further opportunities for progression at the end of the programme.

Workers are selected based on a combination of attitude, skills, punctuality and vulnerability. It’s not the usual case of choosing those who is right for the job, it’s quite the opposite. Those who are already ‘work ready’ are not selected; they focus on those who need extra help.

The idea initially came about after the Environment Agency approached the Newcastle Youth Offending Team about cleaning up local waterways, and from that, The Skill Mill was born. It mainly undertakes water and land-based management, helping to reduce flood risks and improve the local environment. Since then, they’ve been commissioned to undertake several projects across the North East. Newcastle City Council commissioned them to protect a low-lying area of the Quayside from coming Spring Tides. The team-maintained culverts around Newcastle, clearing them of silt and other blockages, reducing flood risk and ensuring the structures were accessible for inspection by the Newcastle City Council engineers. The team have also replaced all the wooden sides of the flower beds and planters around Merchants Wharf, a job that was well received by local residents.

There is a 11.5% reoffending rate among those who have already taken part in the programme and when you compare that to the national reoffending rate of 42.2%, it proves it really is working. The end goal is getting all participants into full time employment. Across the five sites in England, from the last cohort of 20 young people, all went on to find employment after the placement ended.

A further six sites are launching next year around the country, funded through a social impact bond from the government’s Life Chances Fund. I’m looking forward to seeing how many more people benefit from the programme and in turn, how the industry benefits from the new talent pool.

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.

Our Ecological Responsibility

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

Eco-friendly, or ecological, construction is building a structure that is beneficial or non-harmful to the environment. Solar power, water-saving appliances and ‘green’ buildings are all terms we’re familiar with, but now wildlife-safe design is receiving more attention than ever before.

Everything from bats and badgers to nesting birds and invasive non-native species, can be found in and around construction sites and land designated for development. Any of these can put a stop to a project or jeopardise planning permission, so it’s important surveys, assessments and mitigation measures are taken. The term ‘protected species’ refers to species that are protected by legislation. The Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act make it an offence to intentionally, or recklessly kill, injure, or take a protected species, or damage, destroy or obstruct access to structures or places used by protected species for shelter, breeding or protection.

The industry inevitably involves disturbing existing sites which can impact the ecology. Most development proposals will have the potential to impact on the local biodiversity of the development site either through the direct loss of habitats, the reduction in the value of the habitat or the ability of the habitat to support the species that depend on them. Ecological surveys identify the habitats and/or species that exist within an area at the time of the survey. It is important to ensure that protected species are identified as early as possible in the development of a project, when it is straight forward to accommodate any necessary changes or constraints. It also adds time to a project, so it’s best to identify them as early as possible. After carrying out assessments, if wildlife is identified then they require relocation before any work is started.

During the recent restoration of Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland, a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Datim Building Contractors employed a range of initiatives to manage the habitat supporting the wildlife living on the exposed castle and crag. The team considered the findings of weekly ecology surveys and were able to adapt their work to accommodate recommendations from the surveys. A breeding pair of barn owls took advantage of the perfect conditions created by the covered scaffolding to rear two broods of chicks. Once the birds had fledged, Datim even built a ‘swiss chalet’ nestbox to continue to provide shelter for the birds once the scaffolding was removed, enabling the works to continue.

I’d like to think we’re an industry that takes its ecological responsibility seriously, protecting the local wildlife and eco-system wherever possible, so although its legally our responsibility, it’s something that we want to do as well. We all have the same goal, to complete projects as quickly and as efficiently as possible, with wildlife moved to new, safe home where needed.

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.

01/11/18 Final Budget before Brexit

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

On Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced his latest Autumn budget, the last before Brexit. Within it was plenty of news for the industry, with housing, apprentices and infrastructure all being mentioned, but being announced so close to Halloween, did he deliver a trick or a treat for the industry?

The Chancellor announced that the government have committed an extra £500m of funding to the Housing Infrastructure Fund, which is expected to unlock 650,000 new homes. Although £291m of which is set to go to London, that’s still over half to be shared around the rest of the country – fingers crossed for some for the North East. He said the fund would receive a £38bn boost by 2023/24. I’m not usually the pessimist but that’s a lot of money in a short space of time, so I won’t hold my breath on that just yet. He also announced that the Letwin Review, the investigation into why the UK isn’t building enough homes, recommends reforming the planning system to speed up building, but there are no plans to act upon the suggestion – another case of all talk and no action.

Controversial PFI and PF2 contracts, under which private companies provide public services and infrastructure, are to be completely abolished. All existing contracts under the PFI and PF2 system will be honoured but Hammond said he would never sign off on a PFI contract.

Addressing the newly introduced Apprenticeship Levy, the Chancellor confirmed that smaller firms who train apprentices would have their contribution to the apprenticeship levy halved, falling from 10% to 5%. Apprenticeship starts have plummeted over the last year following the introduction of costs to small firms who want to get young people into work. Dropping the proportion of apprenticeship training costs footed by small firms is a much-needed development which should lead to even more apprenticeship starts.

The Budget briefly, and I mean briefly, mentioned how Brexit will affect the industry, stating that “The government will review its existing support for infrastructure finance, to ensure that it continues to meet market needs as the UK leaves the EU.”
Overall, it was a Budget that made some small adjustments but

lacked bold, long-term commitments, which I think we all expected. While austerity may be coming to an end, it certainly hasn’t ended. While we might have been promised less potholes in the road, with Brexit looming, I think we’re all in for a bumpy year ahead.

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.