Investing in Innovation

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

Earlier this month, the Transforming Construction Network Plus launched a new round of funding for innovations in digital, offsite and eco-friendly technology.

The programme will provide up to £600,000 for small research projects, in line with the expectations of the Industrial Strategy and the Transforming Construction Challenge. The programme will support research projects focused on designing and managing buildings through digitally enabled performance management, offsite manufacturing and reducing energy demand by improving quality of build. The Transforming Construction Challenge, which is backed by £170m in research and innovation investment, matched by £250m from industry, was set up to create new construction processes and techniques. The aims of the challenge are for the industry to achieve the governments targets in the 2025 Construction Strategy – reduction in construction costs by a third, 50% improvement in trade balance and 50% reductions in speed and carbon emissions.

We’ve already made a lot of progress and with even more funding being made available for research, innovation and development projects, we’re going from strength to strength in transforming the industry. It couldn’t come at a better time either as we simply cannot deliver the infrastructure and homes that the country needs in the way that we’re operating now and unless things change, we have no hope of hitting the 2025 targets.

We’re all working towards the same goal of what the Industrial Strategy set out last year. In July 2018, the government published the Construction Sector Deal which revealed how government procurement will drive change in the design and assembly of buildings, how the skills challenges faced by the industry will be addressed. It set out what it believes to be the foundations for an ambitious partnership between the government and industry to transform the sector into one that can; build new homes in weeks or days, deliver new buildings at a third of the cost and provide affordable, energy efficient homes. I think everyone is finally on the same page when it comes to innovation and what the industry needs to do, we just need to pull together to maximise the potential for Transforming Construction in the very near future.

Constructing Excellence in the North East are hosting the 2019 North East Construction Summit – Driving the Need for Change next week (Wednesday 2nd October), where the focus will be on innovation, skills and zero-waste in design, materials and time. I must admit, it’s been quite embarrassing how much we’ve struggled with innovation in the past, so it’s promising to see how things are improving, although I’m not getting ahead of myself, there’s still a lot of work to be done – I’m certainly up to the challenge, are you?   

For more information on the North East Construction Summit, please Grace Collinson, on 0191 500 7880 or email grace@cene.org.uk.

Responsibility in Accessibility

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

There’s been a lot of focus on inclusivity and diversity in terms of the construction workforce, but when it comes to creating inclusive and accessible buildings, it’s down to the industry to make sure this happens.

Developers, designers and owners of buildings have a responsibility to ensure that the built environment is accessible to everyone. This includes:

•           Wheelchair users, people with walking difficulties

•           Pushchairs and children

•           People with sight or hearing impairments

•           Elderly people

•           People with co-ordination or respiratory problems

There is a lot to consider when designing a building; energy efficiency, materials, costs etc are all huge factors but they must also consider whether it will be comfortable for the end users. Despite a strong framework of legislation and standards, we still don’t always get it right. I don’t think the error is on purpose, it’s just a case of not everyone understanding what is required.

Construction clients are not always up to date with current legislation, often asking for the project or scheme to be Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant, when the DDA hasn’t existed for a number of years. These days, buildings and projects need to adhere to the Equality Act 2010. There’s no one size fits all approach to equality, but the Equality Act 2010 is about reasonable provision of access and means different things when applied to different situations. Therefore the finished project needs to meet the needs of the future user to be compliant.

Part M of the Buildings Regulations, Access to and Use of Buildings, sets out legal minimum requirements for works to buildings or new buildings. Whereas previous versions of the Regulations focused on the specific needs of people with disabilities, the current edition promotes an approach to inclusive design that reflects the needs of all people. It’s the absolute minimum that we should be adhering too and while many think it restricts design and imagination, I would have to disagree. As long as you’re meeting at least, the minimum standards, with a little imagination we can still go a long way.

Network Rail has a specific Built Environment Accessibility Panel, to ensure their building works, stations and amenities across the country are as inclusive as possible. The panel of experts, at least half of whom have disabilities, work as volunteers with Network Rail to assess and plan accessible places. The idea is a good one and one that I think our industry would benefit from. Everything requires a little quality control and when the end result is such an important one, I think it would be definitely worth the time and effort.

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.

Modern Methods of Construction

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

UK Construction Week, the UK’s largest built environment event, takes place next month, with one of the themes being Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

MMC is transforming the way homes and commercial properties are built. A variety of new approaches are being adopted across the industry, including timber frames; whole wall panels, which can be supplied with windows, insulation and external cladding; and volumetric or modular construction, where pods or modules that could be anything from a bathroom to half a house are supplied ready-made. MMC is a much faster method than the traditional method of bricks and mortar and is essentially taking construction processes away from the building site. As modular homes are manufactured in a factory using MMC the accuracy, quality and performance of each build can be assured ensuring that standards are maintained, reducing the risk of mistakes and waste whilst also potentially providing safer working environments.

A recent report into the family homelessness crisis estimated that there could be more than 210,000 homeless children in England due to the lack of social housing.  The statistic is shocking and incredibly sad but maybe the shock is needed to prove why we need to increase house building to meet demand. Last year, the industry built just under 150,000 new homes, nowhere near enough to get all those children into a home. While it might not be possible to increase the number of new builds by enough, there are other solutions and MMC is one of them. It’s the ideal solution to quick, cost effective and good quality housing.

UK Construction Week will display the latest advancements in MMC and how they’re improving productivity and quality whilst lowering costs. A number of full-scale MMC-built structures will be on display at the show including a modular care annex for the healthcare sector, a SIPS panel residential building, a modular bathroom pod for the high-end hotel sector, and offsite solutions for the education sector.

We’ve been using modular off-site construction methods for a few years now in the North East and we are really reaping the benefits. Modular units were installed at the Gateshead Innovation Village and the regeneration of Smith’s Dock included a high proportion of modular homes manufactured offsite. We’re also ahead of the game in terms of digital MMC – NBS recently used augmented reality in their Future Building exhibition, allowing visitors to scan buildings on a wall and explore a 360-degree model on screen.

The Farmer Review of the UK Construction Labour Model said, we must ‘modernise or die’ and digital technology is at the top of its game, with 3D printing, apps, robots and drones to name a few, helping us carry out day to day tasks. 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 companies accepting technology.

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.

Preparing for a No Deal Brexit

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East
Last week it was announced that the Queen had accepted the Prime Minister’s request to prorogue parliament, something which very rarely happens. For me, this just adds more uncertainty to the Brexit turmoil.
Proroguing parliament means that the current parliamentary ‘session’ ends and then a new ‘session’ begins after a short break. The Prime Minister argues that it gives his new government a chance to bring forward its own legislative agenda, but surely, it’s only going to add to the political chaos? Nobody knows what’s going on with Brexit, all we know is that regardless of the progue parliament, a ‘no deal’ Brexit is looking more likely every day.
A ‘no deal’ would mean that Britain would leave the group of nations with no trade agreements or customs and immigration operations in place at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and at Dover, the English end of the “chunnel” that runs between France and Britain – which just terrifies me for the future of the industry. Plenty of advice has been issued to help businesses prepare for such an eventuality, after all, there’s not a lot else we can do while we wait to see what happens…

  • The government has launched the new UK Conformity Assessed mark, which if approved, will replace the CE marking for certain goods. They’ve also published guidance relating to the Construction Products Regulation and how it will apply in the event of ‘no deal’.
  • The HMRC has also published advice for companies that trade with the EU, with details of important actions you need to take and changes to be aware of.
  • The European Commission has published guidance for firms on the treatment of industrial products in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. This covers a range of issues including guidance for importers, the transfer of notified body certificates and accreditation, all of which are relevant to the industry.
  • The Federation of Master Builders recommends you include the following words in new written quotations and contracts: “If there are any significant changes in the price of the work or any new taxes arising from the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union then we will tell you what those charges are when we know, and ask how you want us to go ahead.”
    If Britain does crash out of the EU and the predicted shortages happen, Parliament have nobody to blame but themselves and it’s going to be up to them to find solutions. While it’s all still up in the air, there’s not a lot we can do but prepare for the worst. My one piece of advice? Don’t let a ‘no deal’ take you by surprise.
    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.