26th May Journal Column

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

Earlier this month, North-East born architect and TV presenter George Clarke launched a new scheme to attract more people into the building industry.

The Ministry of Building Innovation (MOBI) is an organisation designed to inspire new generations and encourage innovation in the design and construction of housing. It is aimed at kickstarting a fundamental change to the home building industry, attracting new generations into the profession.

Statistics show that we may need to recruit as many as 400,000 new employees every year if we are to meet governments ambitious target of building 140,000 new homes by the end of this year. The industry has an ever-growing skills shortage, making attracting new talent into the sector not just desirable, but absolutely critical if we are to close the current talent gap, hit the government’s target and avert a major skills crisis in the future.

I welcome the new initiative with open arms and am 100 per cent behind supporting new recruits, particularly students and young people into the industry. The future of our industry lies with the youth of today, so why wouldn’t we encourage them into the industry by showing them just how amazing construction can be?

George Clarke visited Teesside earlier this week to discuss this new building initiative that has launched in partnership with Teesside University. Employers got to hear about the suite of multi-disciplinary courses at all levels to attract new and innovative ideas and people into the building industry. The university has also developed a suite of courses in Advanced Home Construction and Advanced Home Futures. The courses offer a new look at the building industry and a broad-based practical approach which aims to attract learners from different disciplines, not just traditional architecture and enable students to explore a variety of specialisms, allowing them to challenge the status quo. There’s so much more to the industry than hard hats and muddy boots, and it’s down to us to make sure everybody knows that.

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has also been working towards encouraging more people, specifically young people, into the industry. They have put together a ‘Think Construction’ toolkit for companies to take into schools to show young people exactly what the industry has to offer. It includes a film, presentations, case studies and games to appeal to children of all ages. This time last year I was asking the government to do more with regards to promotion of the industry and to inform parents/school career advisors and pupils that there are many professions within the construction industry, so for me, this toolkit is exactly what is needed.

I think we’ve all finally realised the importance the young of today play in the future of our industry and we know that the best way to make a difference is to work collectively and towards the same goal.

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.

19th May Journal Column

By Richard Waterhouse, Chief Executive of NBS

This week, NBS released their seventh National Building Information Modelling (BIM) Report, the first since the introduction of the UK Government’s BIM mandate in April last year. It’s great to see a lot of encouraging results, showing that the mandate has indeed given the industry a boost to adopt BIM level 2.

BIM adoption has reached a high point this year and BIM level 2 looks to be well established as the normal way of working for most practices to carry out their design work. Over 60% of respondents are now using BIM, up 8% from last year – the biggest recorded jump in BIM usage since the survey began in 2014. To change a relatively static industry like construction in such a short period of time is nothing short of astonishing and is best in class at a global level.

The design community is broadly supportive of the BIM mandate. Most feel the government is on the right track with BIM but the report shows, as with most things, there is still more work to do. Confidence in BIM as a skill is improving among the design team, 55% are now confident in BIM compared to 35% in 2012. Although a lot of work has already been done, there is still a number of people who need information, CPD and training. Whilst some clients lead the way on BIM, many others need further support and careful explanation of the process and its benefits – 72% of clients still don’t understand the benefits of BIM and this needs to change.

So, what’s next for BIM in the UK? In the next few years we can expect adoption and use to increase steadily, not just with existing designers adopting new, better ways of working, but those who have grown up online will expect to design within a collaborative digital working environment. Thinking about future use of BIM, 90% believe they will be using BIM next year and almost 95% of practices believe they will be within three years. While actions do speak louder than words, the rise to 60% BIM adoption over six years, makes me believe this is more than achievable.

The move to BIM level 2 is just the beginning, as the UK BIM mandate becomes embedded, thoughts are naturally turning to what comes next. The report hints at future technologies that will no doubt be significant to the industry: robotics, 3D printing, future cities and machine learning are definitely our future, and I for one can’t wait to see how things progress. We’ve come a long way since our first BIM report and I look forward to future developments, with the UK at the forefront of design innovation.

To read the full report visit www.thenbs.com/bimreport2017

12th May Journal Column

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

Last year, construction company Esh Group began working on a Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) funded Carbon Coach course. The programme aims to help tackle the industry’s skills shortage and meet Government carbon reduction targets – two birds with one stone!

Esh Group identified the need to educate young people entering the construction industry in energy efficiency and awareness, and I couldn’t agree more. There’s always a need to educate people in something new, more so with young people coming into the industry, after all the future of our industry is in their hands.

The programme has been developed online which will upskill apprentices alongside their core discipline as additional learning addressing a skills gap. The innovative course includes four modules covering; Climate Change, Energy sources, Low Carbon Design, and Energy Management. It gives apprentices the on-site know-how to shape a sustainable future for the industry while reducing costs. It features interactive content with voice-over, which for some people is a more engaging way to learn and it’s flexible, so can be available as and when the learner wants.

The programme aims to influence behaviours in relation to energy efficiency both on and off site which will have a long-term impact for Esh Group and the wider industry. I have no doubt in my mind that Carbon Coach will have a positive impact in the region and provide the future workforce with high-quality, innovative training to give them the best start to their careers. By targeting apprentices early on in their training, we can help them to make carbon reduction an important part of their careers. Developing this programme for apprentices provides both the background knowledge and practical skills which will prepare the industry to respond to the Government’s 2025 objective ‘Driving Carbon out of the Built Environment 2025’ – which is coming around scarily fast as we’re already four years down the line since it was first announced.

Funding from CITB has seen at least 50 of Esh Group’s 108 apprentices, who are 11% of the workforce, trained in carbon reduction. It’s this funding which has helped launch the programme as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are so many potential apprentices looking for work and further training and as with most training courses, the quicker you get the ball rolling the better.

Constructing Excellence in the North East are delighted to be working in conjunction with Esh Group to deliver an event focussed on the Carbon Coach programme. The event will generate an awareness of the course and promote energy efficiency throughout the industry, featuring a number of workshops from Esh Group employees and industry professionals. For more information or to register for this event please contact Amy Holmes on 0191 5007880 or amy@cene.org.uk

5th May Journal Column

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

According to a new report from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), offsite construction could revolutionise the industry – as a big advocate of this method of construction it’s encouraging to hear, especially during the housing crisis we’ve been facing over the last few years.

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.

Following Mark Farmer’s report entitled ‘Modernise or Die’ report, and government initiatives aimed at encouraging the use of offsite, it seems the industry is finally realising the benefits offsite construction can bring. The CITB have commissioned a report ‘Faster, Smarter, More Efficient: Building Skills for Offsite Construction’, which provides a timely assessment of how the adoption of offsite is changing the skills and training landscape for the industry.

The report shows that 42% of industry employers with over 100 staff expect to use offsite methods in five years’ time, of which, they all expect the use of precast concrete panels to increase and 91% anticipate the use of precast concrete frame to rise. Almost 50% of construction industry clients also expect the use of offsite construction to increase over the next five years – so offsite construction is certainly on the up!

Offsite construction currently accounts for just 10% of industry output and the CITB has identified a growing training gap. We now need to concentrate on employer training and ensuring everyone has the knowledge and skill to deal with this new method of house building. If offsite construction is the road we’re going to go down, and it’s the right road for me, it’s our responsibility to ensure the industry is well equipped to go there.

The report outlined six key skills areas related to offsite construction; digital design; estimating/commercial; offsite manufacturing; logistics; site management and integration and onsite placement and assembly. For offsite construction to be successful, there needs to be a clear understanding of both onsite and offsite construction and the two must work together effectively, so training in these six areas must develop to meet the changing demand.

The CITB have promised to work with other stakeholders, such as in design and manufacturing to apply existing training in a construction context and step up promotion of the career opportunities offsite can offer, emphasising digital skills, to attract a wider pool of people into these key roles – which all sounds good to me, but as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

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.

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.

24th March Journal Column

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

With Article 50 set to be triggered next Wednesday (29 March) and the impact of Brexit fast approaching, it’s time to stop panicking and start thinking about what we need/can do in the months ahead to make the process as pain free as possible.

Building.co.uk launched its Building a Better Brexit campaign in January- a campaign to secure terms in Brexit negotiations that will safeguard a sector that contributes around 6.5% of Gross Domestic Profit, and provide a policy environment that enables the growth needed to deliver the infrastructure and housing the UK needs. The campaign’s specific focus is on the needs of the industry under a Brexit deal, and its vital role in the post-Brexit economy.

We got a sneak peek into the possible economic consequences of Brexit in the Spring Budget earlier this month when the chancellor was forced to downgrade his growth forecasts from 2018. The UK economy is now expected to grow at a slower rate than before the EU referendum and it will continue throughout, and after, the withdrawal process. From a survey carried out by Building.co.uk, which questioned more than 2,000 of its readers, we know that most industry workers are concerned about the impact of Brexit on costs, resources and the ability to deliver the housing and infrastructure we desperately need.

The same survey found that the majority of those asked think that the job of ensuring Brexit works for construction is not just the responsibility of the government – the industry and the government must work together. Last month’s Modern Industrial Strategy green paper stated that the government would only work with those sectors that were willing to help themselves – so we all must be willing to work together and make this work. This case was powerfully made by Mark Farmer’s report, Modernise or Die, last October. He called for a reform to address the skills crisis, pointing out that 700,000 new workers will be needed in five years to replace those retiring. His report also mentioned the lack of training in construction, I’m not saying that more skilled workers and better training would solve all our problems, but it’s definitely a good place to start.

Our industry and the government need to work together to create the conditions under Brexit in which construction can continue to operate, which is where the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) comes in. The CLC was set up in 2013 and although it wasn’t originally set up to focus on Brexit, it was established to improve performance of the industry and oversee the government’s industrial strategy. The role of the CLC is to be the bridge between government and the industry, helping to drive the change we need, and right now it’s exactly what we need to ensure the government and industry work together to ensure we thrive post-Brexit.

The Construction Industry Council and Partners are holding the North East’s Construction Summit on Tuesday 11 May, where the new Modern Industrial Strategy will be discussed in more detail. Guest speakers include; Don Ward of Constructing Excellence, Dale Sinclair of Aecom on behalf of the Royal Institute of British Architects, Dr Stephen Hamil of NBS, and a representative from The North East Local Enterprise Partnership, with more to be announced in the coming weeks. For more information on the summit, contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.