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

16th July Newsletter

Todays newsletter includes a full list of forthcoming events such as networking, CPD and more!

July 16th

Durham High School for Girls wins Sporting Wonder Challenge

This year's Sporting Wonder Challenge winners from Durham High School

The winner of this year’s Sporting Wonder Challenge, a project designed to give students in the North East an insight into the construction industry, has been revealed.

The teams, from various schools across the North East, were asked to create a construction company, coming up with a name, logo and brand. The companies were then asked to place a bid for a development which would host one or more sporting facilities, which could then be used by the local community. The development had to be functional and environmentally friendly, sympathetic to its surroundings and provide added value to the community.

This year’s winners came from Durham High School for Girls and their construction ‘company’ BASE – Foundation for the Future and their bid for a two-storey steel framed sports centre with sustainability running on all levels, including ground heat source pumps and green roofs.

The team suggested the centre would be located in Crook on a brownfield site owned by the local council. The team had thoroughly researched costs and location, with detailed site research and local interviews indicating how the community felt they could develop with the proposal.

The standard at the annual competition, organised by Construction Industry Council (CIC), Northern Counties Builders Federation (NCBF) and supported by Constructing Excellence North East (CENE), was so high that the appropriate local authority as they believed they all merited further investigation.

Chief Executive of CENE, Catriona Lingwood, said: “I love working on any task which has the ability to inspire and inform young people on the construction industry.

“The challenge has given them a real insight into the industry and I hope that many of them consider it as a future career option as it would be an honour to have such talented people in the industry.”

The Sporting Wonder Challenge was originally created to give young people a hands-on experience of the industry, looking at every stage of a construction project from producing a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) model to the costing of the project.

The challenge took place from February to June and required the teams to submit two tasks, which were then judged by a team of industry experts.

The judging panel was made up of Chief Executive of CENE, Catriona Lingwood, Regional Chair of CIC[A1] , John Nielsen, Angela Carney of Association for Project Safety and representing NCBF, Douglas Kell.

Regional Chair of CIC, John Nielsen said: “The winning team showed great creativity and understanding of their market and brand.

“The bids all showed a real understanding of the industry, which is great to see from such young people, we were all extremely impressed with the ideas presented to us.”

The grand final held on 6 July saw the winners being awarded with a cash prize and trophy.

The students were supported by industry consultants who offered help and advice throughout the process.

Some of the competing schools were able to build delivery into lessons, which worked well for students studying GCSE or BTEC in Construction and the Built Environment, with other students working on the project during lunch breaks and after school.

10th July Journal Column

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

Back in February I wrote about the Construction Skills Certification Scheme’s (CSCS) plans to scrap the current suite of 13 cards and introduce one smart card to be used by all construction workers. I was fully on board with the plan and thought they were needed now more than ever.

The plan was for the new cards to be simpler to understand and to reduce the time site managers spent checking workers cards, with the hope it would eliminate the number of fake cards being used around the country, something that has become quite an issue of late.

After being introduced in 2010, all CSCS cards now have microchip technology embedded in them, making it easier for site managers to access information on each worker. The chip stores qualification information and can be read with either a dedicated reader device or on a smartphone or tablet app – there really is an app for everything now!

Yet despite it being easier than ever to check cards, 69 per cent of construction workers are still using the dated paper-based system with only 6 per cent using the new smart technology.

A survey of 1,180 construction workers showed that whilst 86 per cent of cardholders had their cards checked, only 43 per cent were checked to see if they were actually qualified.

Of those managers who actually check cards on their construction sites, one in five said they have seen fake cards in the past year meaning those workers are most likely unqualified for the job they have been doing. Using fake cards is a fraudulent offence, and it’s becoming increasingly common, with many cases ending up in court, and rightly so, if you break the law you’ve got to be prepared to face the consequences.

Recently, a site manager became suspicious of three people on site and what he thought were fake CSCS cards, he was well within his rights to report it and it ended up with one man being arrested and given 18 months imprisonment for being in possession of several fake cards, and to him I’d ask, was it really worth the risk?

Companies should be taking advantage of how easy it is to check cards and qualifications with the introduction of smart technology. I really thought it would take off more than it has; work needs to be done to increase the use of it and finally make basic visual card checks a thing of the past.

There’s always more to be done, whether it’s site managers making more of an effort to check CSCS cards, or workers sharing intelligence and reporting anything suspicious. Let’s pull together and protect the reputation of our industry, all these scandalous stories appearing in the press of arrests and fraudulent behaviour are giving a bad name to what I know is a good, honest and hard-working industry.

3rd July Journal Column

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

Although technology and modern tools have helped speed up and improve the construction process, the need for manual labour has always remained constant, but this could be about to change.

Could it soon be the end of working life as we know it? Is the robotic revolution coming, and does it have the potential to significantly change the industry? The reason I ask is because an Australian engineer has recently created a fully automatic bricklaying machine. The robot, named Hadrian, after the wall, is set to speed up the bricklaying process.

Research has shown that approximately 10 per cent of manufacturing tasks are currently carried out by machines, with the number predicted to rise to 25 per cent by 2025.

Hadrian can lay 1,000 bricks an hour, create an entire house in just two days and has the potential to build up to 150 homes a year.  It works 20 times faster than humans and can work 24 hours a day, without the need to recuperate with a cuppa half way through the day like the rest of us. Could this finally be the answer to our skills shortage crisis?

The robot has a 28m long boom connected to its body, with a giant robotic ‘hand’ attached to it which picks up the bricks and lays them in sequence. Impressively the robot even has a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) which works out the structure of the house and places the brick in accordance, minimising waste and guaranteeing accuracy within one hundredth of an inch.

Hadrian even applies the mortar or adhesive itself, is capable of leaving space for wiring and plumbing and can scan and cut the bricks, meaning no human element is actually required.

Bricklaying may be one of the oldest trades, but it’s also one of the most dangerous and time consuming, but with this advance in technology, 12 hour days and a high number of worker injuries may soon be a thing of the past.

The idea of a ‘robot’ is seen as attractive technology, and shows younger people that our industry can be ‘cool’. Mark Pivac, Hadrian’s creator, hopes it will help attract a younger audience to the construction profession.

The robot, which is still only a prototype in Western Australia took 10 years and cost £4.5million to build. The robot will expand to the rest of Australia before the rest of the world, so we needn’t get too excited yet. Maybe don’t hang up your working boots just yet, the industry still needs you!