28th August Journal Column

By Mark Siddall, Principal at LEAP: Lovingly Engineered Architectural Process

By 2050 an anticipated 7,000 additional deaths per year could occur as a result of the high temperatures arising from climate change, and a growing and ageing population – roughly triple current levels.

The National House Building Council has raised concerns about the unintended consequences of low energy homes and the potential for increased overheating risks. This has been echoed by the Zero Carbon Hub in its observation that improved standards of insulation and the growing risk of hotter summers could cause overheating within new homes

Although these are serious concerns, we must maintain perspective. The Office of National Statistics estimates roughly 25,000 people die from the cold each year. Putting that into perspective, it means three and a half times more people are dying from the cold today, than those who could potentially die from high temperatures in 2050.

What are needed are homes that are neither too warm in the summer, nor too cold in the winter. Homes just like Steel Farm in Northumberland could be just the solution we are looking for.

You see, the house is super insulated and designed to reduce the amount of energy used for heating by about 90 per cent. Also, in accordance with best practice, Steel Farm was designed to avoid indoor temperatures rising above 25°C for more than five per cent of the year.

The heating bill for similarly sized houses in the North East, built between 1919 and 1944, is on average estimated to be £975 per year. If you owned Steel Farm this would mean you were saving up to £765 per year whilst keeping snug and warm without any worry.

Measurements taken throughout 2014, the warmest year on record according to the Met Office, show that indoor temperatures rose above 25°C for less than two per cent of the year. The average temperature was a comfortable 20°C (just what Trevor and Judith, the owners of Steel Farm, like).

Given the concerns of the National House Building Council and the Zero Carbon Hub and the fact that the ODPM, in 2006, observed that temperatures above 25°C can lead to an increased risk of mortality, Steel Farm demonstrates that you can create a house that is fit for Goldilocks, neither too hot, nor too cold, just right!

So how was this achieved? Steel Farm was designed to the worlds’ leading quality assurance standard for low energy buildings. It is the first Certified Passivhaus in Northumberland. You can learn more about Steel Farm in an in-depth 3-part documentary at PassivhausSecrets.co.uk. Let’s hope we start to see more Passivhaus buildings in the North East in the near future.


21st August Journal Column

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

Council officials have called for a rise in apprenticeships, as more skilled workers are required to support the UK’s wider house building targets. They want more devolution of the training systems, having claimed that ‘for too long we’ve trained too many hairdressers and not enough bricklayers’. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a well-trained hairdresser, but the skills shortage is becoming a real problem and something has to be done about it.

There is currently a gap between the number of apprentices in the sector, and the industry’s forecasted annual recruitment. The issue is one mainly faced by the house-building sector and with ministers announcing plans to build up to 275,000 affordable homes by 2020; a huge improvement in skills and newly trained employees is needed.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has previously announced that in the last five years the number of completed construction apprenticeships fell by 58 per cent. This data, along with the results that followed last weeks A-Level’s show that not only is the industry lacking in apprenticeships, but the numbers of students studying the subjects which relate to the industry are mainly boys,

Data gathered from A-Level results, which went out last week, show that those studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) was weighted disproportionately to boys. The gender gap at A-Level is reflected in the numbers entering professions, increasing the current gender gap within the industry.

Further data shows that a quarter of sixth form colleges have had to stop offering STEM courses due to funding problems, which will only fuel the problems the industry is currently facing. The Government need to consider the long term effects of cutting such funding. Not only does it means courses and training opportunities are reduced, it also means that in the long run there won’t just be a skills shortage, there’ll be nobody left to do any of the work!

The LGA also added that its latest data suggests that the skills shortage could hold back between 16-25 per cent of forecast economic growth between now and 2022. The association has suggested that in order to prevent this, ministers need to work closely with employers, councils and education bodies, and I completely agree.

Councils are in the best position to understand the needs of their residents and the local area, yet they can’t contribute towards decision making on skills training and employment opportunities in the area. Those who have a better understanding of what is needed in order to improve the industry should have more of a say. Not all areas require the same skills, so it makes sense for opportunities to be created based on localised needs.

More power for councils can improve relationships between schools, colleges and employers resulting in a stronger workforce to close the skills gap in the industry and increase house- building, which benefits the country as a whole.

14th August Journal Column

HK Logo - smallBy Graham Sutton, Associate Solicitor at Hay & Kilner

It is now common place for main contractors to have to provide various documents to increase an employer’s financial security for a project. Documents including collateral warranties to third parties, sub-contractor warranties, performance bonds and parent company guarantees are all items now required by an employer at the beginning of a contract.

Investors are often wary of funding construction projects due to exposure to various risks, but these bonds, guarantees and warranties should offer some security.

The purpose of providing the documents is only beneficial to the employer, with little to be gained by the main contractor, so it’s therefore not surprising that many contractors fail to provide the documents in the hope that the project will be completed before the documents are requested.

This tactic has now effectively been “scuppered” by the recent case of Liberty Mercian Limited -v- Cuddy Civil Engineering Limited (CCEL). In this case CCEL, the main contractor, had agreed to provide a performance bond and sub-contractor warranties in favour of Liberty. In cases where contractors fail to comply with obligations in accordance with the building contract, performance bonds offer a secure fund for the employer. However, CCEL argued that despite its best efforts, it had been unable to obtain a performance bond from the funders it had approached in the format required by the contract. A number of the funders would only issue a bond if CCEL made a cash deposit equal to the value of the proposed bond, plus a premium for issuing the bond.

The matter was taken to court and the judge ordered CCEL to make a payment of £420,000, the equivalent to the financial value of the performance bond. The court placed Liberty in the same position as it would have been if the bond had originally been provided.

CCEL told the court that it had been unable to obtain warranties from a sub-contractor who had now gone bust. The court was also told that there was evidence that the sub-contractor had held professional indemnity insurance and it was possible that the insurers may respond to a claim under the warranties. The court therefore ordered CCEL to obtain the warranties. The case is a clear example of the real danger in ignoring requests to provide contractual documentation. The court has shown it is prepared to order parties to honour their obligation to provide agreed documentation, regardless of the stage of the works or the difficulties that may be involved.

Leaving the matter for the court to decide can clearly have dire financial consequences, so it’s best for all parties involved to make sure the issue is resolved before reaching this stage.

For further details about Hay & Kilner and the services they provide please contact 0191 232 8345



31st July Journal Column

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

The news that the government plan to appoint a Small Business Commissioner to tackle payment disputes and unfair practices, means that the government have actually followed through on something they promised our industry, which is brilliant news for SMEs.

Back in June I shared my support for the government’s plans to tackle the ever growing problem with late payment, and it seems it’s now becoming a reality.

On Sunday, the government announced the new service which will be the first point of contact for SMEs and will provide advice and support on how to avoid disputes and resolve them. It will also offer access to mediation services to resolve problems quickly, affordably and most importantly out of court. The commissioner role will offer advice to suffering contractors, investigate the many complaints filed and have the power to name and shame offenders.

The plan is only one of several measures the government are taking in the right direction to tackle late payments. Other measures include the requirement of large companies to report payment policies and practices twice a year. They will have to report on their standard payment terms, average time taken to pay, the proportion of invoices paid in 30 days or less, 60 days or less and then 60 days and beyond.

The commissioner will then have permission to use this data to name and shame those who are failing to pay on time. Hopefully the embarrassment of being named will give companies the push they need to cough up!

The data will also be used to celebrate those who are paying promptly, which may sound silly, but celebrating a company that is fulfilling their contractual agreement is such a rare thing to hear at the minute, that it’s something I think we should be making a big deal of!

It may seem like the government are going to extreme measures but for me they’re only doing exactly what is needed. Nothing has been worked in the past, so I’m all for the introduction of new plans, it means there’s more chance of at least one of them sticking and being successful.

According to the Bankers’ Automated Clearing Services (BACS), SMEs spend £10.8billion each year chasing late payments, and as of this month they were collectively owed £26.8billion. These statistics are appalling, payment isn’t optional, these businesses need, and deserve, to be paid on time for their services.

I look forward to seeing how the late payment tsar affects the industry as it has the potential to resolve these issues once and for all.

All firms are invited to respond to the plans before they are passed as part of the governments Enterprise Bill, on the Department for Business Innovation and Skills on the Government website. The consultation will run until 21 August.

7th August Journal Column

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

Health and Safety is relevant in all aspects of the construction industry, and it’s vital that it’s taken seriously, as, in some instances, it can mean the difference between life and death.

A recent report by Neil Ashdown, general manager of the Fire Door Inspection Scheme, shows a worrying increase, in big and small companies alike, of incorrect fire door installations. The purpose of the fire door is to block out flames and smoke during a fire, and if wrongly installed they are useless at compartmenting the flames

The study found doors wrongly hung in buildings ranging from hospitals and schools to the most iconic buildings which were built by some of the biggest names in the industry and cost hundreds of millions of pounds- basically, places you’d expect fire doors to be correctly installed.

The results of the report have highlighted a need for improvement in a particular area of the industry which I don’t think has ever been considered before.

Companies are more than likely following protocol when it comes to certifications for the doors being verified and work being checked and rechecked, but if nobody understands the problem in the first place, then it isn’t going to be picked up.

Five of the most common faults with the doors in the report include:

  • Over one third having incorrect signage
  • Over 230 fire doors having excessive gaps between the door and the frame
  • 15 per cent having damage to door leaf
  • One in five having unsuitable hinges
  • Over 61 per cent having fire or smoke seals missing or installed incorrectly

If you are responsible for Health and Safety in your organisation, it is down to you to ensure you are correctly trained and feel confident enough to be completing or overseeing such tasks. It might not be the easiest thing to admit that you need more help/training, but damage to your ego isn’t as tragic as the possible consequences of incorrectly installing a fire door. Some of the common faults found could have easily been avoided or resolved, had they been flagged up.

There’s more to consider than just the quality of Health and Safety prevention measures, it’s about legal responsibilities too. Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) and your probable duty as the Responsible Person appointing the Competent Person to carry out work, regardless of whether a fire occurs or not, you could still be liable if a problem with the doors is flagged.

I’m not picking faults or criticising companies, but the results of the report have stressed the need for education and training and made me aware of a problem that I didn’t know existed. It’s a problem with a very simple solution in my opinion and a one we need to sort sooner rather than later.

How to design and build a PassivHaus

Steel Farm, the first Certified Passivhaus Northumberland, has been shortlisted for the UK Passivhaus Awards. To celebrate architect Mark Siddall from LEAP, the low energy architectural practice, has prepared an in depth 3-part video series that explains the Before, During and After of the design and construction process. If you are considering building homes to the Passivhaus Standard watch these videos and discover:

  • Why integrating a dashboard into the Passivhaus Planning Package is the fastest and most cost effective way for your architect to test whether your project can satisfy the Passivhaus Standard
  • How reducing thermal bridging can save thousands of pounds of construction cost
  • How to exclude drafts, avoid discomfort, slash energy bills and ensure good indoor air quality by paying attention to airtightness
  • A critical strategy for saving money and reducing risk
  • Whether or not building a Passivhaus has to break the bank
  • How a right first time policy successfully reduced air leakage by 96% compared to UK Building Regulations
  • The real cost of heating a Passivhaus, and which heating system is best suited to a remote rural location
  • How to safely install and commission mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR)
  • Whether insulation really causes overheating and how much overheating really occurs in a Passivhaus located in the North East of England
  • The results from almost 12 months of measuring and monitoring – and how the analysis will inform the next design
  • Whether or not the air in a Steel Farm Passivhaus is too dry  …and whether the harsh North East climate increases the risk of dry air discomfort
  • How you can experience what it is like to live in a Passivhaus (for free)
  • The one thing that your building contractor can not do without
  • The two things that your architect should avoid doing …in any building
  • ….and much more

Learn more and get free instant access at PassivhausSecrets.com  or for further info please contact Mark Siddall at www.leap4.it

30th July Newsletter

This week features a full list of forthcoming events for the Autumn and more!

July 30th

24th July Journal Column

Landscape LLP Logo White - 300 dpiBy Sarah Wilson, Partner at Watson Burton, specialising in construction and engineering law

Chancellor George Osbourne and business secretary Sajid Javid have revealed a ‘Fixing the Foundations’ housing plan in the biggest change to the UK planning system since the introduction of localism in 2011 under the coalition government.

The 90-page blueprint sets out a plan to accelerate house building in the UK to meet the government’s target of 200,000 starter homes and 275,000 affordable homes by 2020. Changes to the planning system to help meet these goals include a move to liberalised zones – a system already adopted in other countries in which developers will be granted automatic planning permission for residential developments on suitable brownfield sites.

By removing slow and expensive planning obstacles, The Chancellor hopes to release enough land to build the homes that people need, by making housing developments a less expensive and more attractive investment.

The UK has previously struggled to build enough homes to meet the growing demand, frustrating potential home owners. Councils will now be expected to plan proactively to identify land suitable for development and design new housing sites. A new law will allow the government to intervene if local authorities fail to produce a suitable housing plan. Further penalties will be imposed on councils who fail to quickly process planning applications.

These reforms look set to solve an age-old problem that local authorities have failed to plan ahead for meaningful developments; however we still have the issue of delivery. The skills shortage in the industry means that builders are turning down projects and this problem will only get worse with an increased development demand and no pipeline of skilled workers.

The funding cuts which have hit local government in the past decade have led to a severe lack of resource and expertise within council planning departments. And with an increased pressure on councils to deliver a higher number of homes, this resource needs to be supported, not just by central government, but also the private sector.

There are a number of brownfield sites available in the North East, these reforms should see an increase in housing developments in desirable living areas – a move which is important for growth in the North East. An increase in starter homes will mean young professionals can live closer to where they want to settle and work, and an increased talent pool will attract inward investment from companies wanting to locate to a cost efficient region- which is great news for everyone.

23rd July Newsletter

To view this week’s newsletter which include a full list of forthcoming events

July 23rd

17th July Journal Column

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

With the news that the government have scrapped plans to make all new UK homes carbon neutral, it’s not surprising that house builders, planners and green groups alike are unhappy.

As part of planning measures announced by the Treasury last week, the government will no longer be introducing requirements for zero carbon homes in 2016 and zero carbon non-domestic buildings in 2019.

Had the plans gone ahead it would have ensured that all new houses/buildings from 2016 would generate as much energy, through renewable sources such as wind or solar power, as they would use in heating, ventilation, hot water and lighting.

These plans, which sound like they could have achieved so much, were to be supported by tighter energy efficiency standards and a scheme which would allow house builders to deliver equivalent carbon savings off-site. However, the excitement was short lived as plans were axed on Friday.

Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, Julie Hirigoyen has called the move “the death knell” for the zero carbon homes policy, some may say death knell is slightly dramatic but I couldn’t agree more, the plans we were promised have been destroyed.

The house-building industry heavily invested in delivering energy-efficient homes. As a country, we are legally committed to achieving at least an 80 per cent reduction in the carbon emissions from our homes by 2050 and cancelling the policy is taking a step in the wrong direction to achieving this. I can imagine those in the house-building industry feel like they’re stuck in limbo, they somehow have to work towards reducing carbon emissions for the future without building energy-efficient homes, which sounds near enough impossible to me.

Gordon Brown announced the policy in 2006 meaning it has been almost 10 years since the policy was put in place. That’s 10 years of commitment, progress and investment from the industry, which is a long way to come for the outcome to be only disappointment.

There are still those who are in support of the government’s decision, having said that the aim of reducing carbon emissions to zero was far too ambitious. Given that 85 per cent of existing homes will still be standing by 2050, more work needs to be done to tackle the issues with current UK homes. Here’s hoping the government announce plans to refurbish our existing homes, showing they are making some effort in tackling carbon reduction even if it isn’t what we were originally promised – something is still better than nothing.

We’re holding an event on ‘Future Housing’ in September, looking at Sustainable Homes, PassivHaus and Smart Homes with talks from industry experts on minimalising bills, creating a healthy home and a presentation covering the creation of low carbon, zero energy homes.

To register interest or for more information on the event please contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 374 0233 or leanne@cene.org.uk