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.

17th March Journal Column

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

Last week, Chancellor Philip Hammond gave his Spring Budget speech and announced the launch of new T-Level qualifications. The new system is designed to put technical construction qualifications on a par with A-Levels, and I couldn’t be happier!

For a long time, technical education for school leavers has been neglected, with large differences in skill levels between regions. We’ve been desperate for the government to look at methods of technical training, especially for young people, and now they’ve finally agreed that compared to other countries, we are trailing behind. In the international league table for technical education we rank 16th out of 20, almost approaching bottom which is extremely worrying, so something needed to be done.

The £500m-a-year investment in T-Levels will come into effect in 2019 and will benefit 16-19-year-olds across 15 different sectors including construction, engineering and manufacturing. The 15 new courses will replace more than 13,000 different technical qualifications that we currently have, so it’s no surprise that not everybody knows what they all mean. Narrowing down qualifications means that employers will easily know what a potential employee can and can’t do and where their strengths lie – something that will make employing a skilled worker who is right for the job much easier.

Students will be offered at least a three-month work placement in their second year, which is sadly where doubt of the success of T-Levels creeps in. Statistics from the Construction Industry Training Board show that the number of young people in construction-related further education is much more than the number of apprenticeship places being offered, so will employers even be able to offer placements? The pressure is on for the government to find hundreds of thousands of work placements that it’s going to need for T-Level students, for this whole process to be a success.

For too long the industry has been wrongly viewed as an easy way out for those without qualifications or an alternative to the academic route, so I’m hoping the introduction of T-Levels changes this perception. There are a number of routes into the industry for those of all skills levels and people who work in the industry are some of the smartest people.

With the announcement of T-Levels and the recent announcement of the overhaul of technical education, setting up institutes of technology teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects), it’s obvious the government are finally taking this seriously. There has never been a better time for getting children interested in STEM subjects and construction, within the next couple of years the opportunities available to them will be better than ever before.

10th March Journal Column

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

New research has revealed that half of school age children have never been given any information on possible jobs in construction by their teachers or careers advisers.

House builders, Redrow surveyed 2,000 parents and school age children and 147 of its own apprentices and the results are quite shocking.  Half of young people answered ‘no’ when asked if information on careers in construction had ever been discussed with them by a teacher or had been made readily available in careers literature. I am 100 per cent behind encouraging new workers into the industry, particularly students and young people. I believe that the youth of today hold the future of our industry in their hands, so why aren’t we showing them just how amazing construction can be?

More than half of young people questioned believe that a career in construction mostly involves manual labour and one in five of young people believe a career in construction does not require any qualifications beyond GCSEs, proving that enough isn’t being done to educate children on the industry. The problem seems to lie with education, not just in skills and training like you would expect, but more in simply educating people on what the industry can offer them. As an industry, we need to get better at communicating the jobs available, informing parents/school career advisors and pupils that there are many professions within the industry, it’s not just hard hats and muddy boots.

We’ve all been celebrating National Apprenticeship Week this week, with campaigns up and down the country dedicated to supporting apprenticeships, so it’s a shame to hear that nearly a third of the young people asked said that they hadn’t received information at school on apprenticeships. The industry as a whole must get more young people interested and bring in more apprentices to help with the skills shortage that we’re dealing with. We now have the skills and resources to train and educate, and those who have gone through apprenticeships are some of the smartest people I know.

Only 30 per cent of young men said a career in construction was a possibility for them and even more shockingly, only 16 per cent of young women said the same, which is a shame when they haven’t been given all the facts to make an informed decision. The image people have in their head is not a true representation of how the industry is today. We’ve come a long way in terms of technology and skills, and the general public just aren’t aware of the reality of construction today. If we give them a true representation of what they can expect, and what the industry is like, then we’ve done all we can and it’s down to them to decide if construction is right for them.

3rd March Journal Column

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

The National House Building Council (NHBC) has launched a website to help house-builders keep track of their ongoing projects being built off-site.

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.

The modern methods of construction (MMC) Hub also lists building systems that NHBC has accepted as meeting the NHBC Standards. Only builders and developers who can demonstrate financial security and technical competence are registered with NHBC. It allows manufacturers to submit their systems and sub-assemblies for an assessment to determine whether they satisfy the requirements of NHBC Technical Standards. Because NHBC’s approach to acceptance of MMC/off-site construction is rigorous, it means that if a home benefits from an NHBC warranty then you can be confident that the system has been thoroughly assessed.

Although it is becoming more popular, off-site construction is still a fairly new method, so it’s beneficial that builders can have their systems and sub-assemblies checked before the process begins. The site also provides free access to research into off-site construction and gives users the option to ask frequently asked questions. It’s important organisations and builders are educated when it comes to off-site construction because it has the potential to help the industry in many ways.

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. This method also makes it possible to optimise construction material purchases and usage. With many off-site 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.

If used in the delivery of affordable housing, off-site construction has the potential to transform the way housing is delivered, and play a key role in ensuring we meet the government’s 2020 housing target, helping us deliver the affordable housing we so desperately need.

Working in a controlled factory environment means there is also less exposure to risks and less time spent on the construction site, resulting in much improved safety. With time and safety being reduced, it puts less pressure on contractors meaning they aren’t reliant on temporary labour. So really, it’s a win, win situation all round!

Work is well underway at Smiths Dock, North Shields to install 34 modular homes. The houses are being built in a factory in Nottinghamshire before being transported to North Shields and installed on site. It’s really promising to see that the North East has already accepted off-site construction and started using the method to its advantage. It shows that we have acknowledge that, like many industries, we are changing and we are ok with that. New construction methods are here to stay, and if they’re going to help us reach targets and deliver the houses we need, why wouldn’t we get on board?

24th March Journal Column

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

The end of 2016 marked the end of the industry as we know it. A lot of big, important decisions were made and there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the impact they would have on the industry.  But despite the apprehension, mainly around the Brexit vote, it seems we ended the year on a high.

The latest Markit/CIPS UK Construction purchasing managers’ index (PMI) shows that output increased 1.8 per cent in December on the previous month and we ended the year on a high compared to the year before – so we must be doing something right. Output during the three months from September to November was 0.1 per cent down on the three months before, but still 1.6 per cent higher than a year ago. So, although output was marginally getting worse month-to-month, it was still much higher than it had been the year before and I’ll certainly take that!

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that private commercial work, alongside housing, were the main drivers of growth. Data from ONS shows that all construction work reached a seasonally-adjusted index reading of 116.5 in December 2016, marking the second-highest output index figure since the monthly dataset began at the start of 2010. New housing work also increased in December reaching its highest level in six years (the index is based on 2013 figures representing 100).

According to new research, we’ll need to recruit more than two million staff in the next five years to deliver the number of homes we require. So, although we’re still struggling for skilled workers, we are actually working. The increase in output just goes to show that the industry cannot be discouraged and we will keep working to make our industry great.

While Decembers output was encouraging, figures suggested growth in the sector slowed down in January. But all hope is not lost, the survey also suggested confidence was high among companies in the industry, with 51 per cent forecasting a rise in activity this year. We just need to keep momentum going, get our heads down and hit our targets.

Going forward in 2017 I expect companies to become more cautious with the impact of Brexit looming, which, following Theresa May’s speech in January claiming the UK will leave the European single market and the EU customs union, might be even messier than we first originally thought. But, let’s not be disheartened, we had a lot of reason to be wary in 2016 and we’ve still managed to come out on top.

Watson Burton supports major construction industry Awards event

Construction specialists, Watson Burton have once again demonstrated close ties to the sector by sponsoring a major industry award.

The Newcastle head-quartered firm is sponsoring the Value category in the Constructing Excellence in the North East Awards 2017, which will take place on June 16 at the Newcastle Marriott Gosforth Park Hotel.

The awards, now in their 13th year, are organised by Constructing Excellence North East (CENE) and recognise achievements in the region’s built environment.

The Value award will honour an initiative, project or series of projects that has focused on the value of facilities in use and the outcomes for owners and users. Winners will show how whole life cost and value has been considered from the outset, combining capital costs on construction with maintenance, operational and occupiers’ costs.

Additional award categories include: Young Achiever; Integration and Collaborative Working; People Development; Sustainability; Digital Construction; Innovation; Health, Safety and Wellbeing; Preservation and Rejuvenation; Client of the Year, SME of the Year, Outstanding Achievement; and Project of the Year.

Watson Burton are one of the most well-known legal names when it comes to providing advice to the construction sector. The well-established and widely-respected team has worked with some of the UK’s largest housebuilders, developers and contractors, providing advice to both private and public sector clients throughout the whole life cycle of projects.

Headed by partners Sarah Wilson and David Spires, the construction team have particular experience in mediation and adjudication as well as vast expertise in procurement, project documentation, risk analysis, problem solving and dispute resolution.

Watson Burton has worked with a wide range of clients involved in the construction sector, including Clancy Docwra, Bellway Homes Limited, Keepmoat Regeneration, Lucion Services, Applebridge Construction, Lloyds Bank and Barnsley College.

In conjunction with CENE, Watson Burton also co-host the monthly First Friday Club, a networking event for people in the construction industry or for those with an interest in the built environment, with the next event taking place at The Crowne Plaza Hotel, Newcastle on March 3, 2017.

Sarah Wilson, partner in Watson Burton’s Construction team, commented: “We are delighted to be sponsoring the Value category in this year’s Constructing Excellence North East Awards 2017. There are numerous companies in our region which are dedicated to ensuring that facilities are great places to live and work for owners and users and we’re looking forward to seeing their exciting new projects come to the fore this year.

“Watson Burton has a long-standing relationship with Constructing Excellence North East and we’re proud to be associated with this prestigious event, one that has become a real highlight in the construction industry’s calendar.”

Catriona Lingwood, CEO of Constructing Excellence in the North East, added: “We greatly value the continued support of the Construction Team at Watson Burton since the Awards’ inception in 2005. The Awards have grown immensely over the last 13 years and are now the highlight of the built environment calendar, showcasing all that is good about the people, organisations and projects in our industry.”

The deadline for entries for the Constructing Excellence North East Awards 2017 is February 28. For more information visit https://cene.org.uk/award/cene-2017-categories/

17th February Journal Column

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

Last week, the government published the long-awaited Housing White Paper, which revealed something we’ve all known for a long time– the housing market is broken.

While the housing shortage has always been particularly bad in London, it’s getting worse up and down the country. A single Housing White Paper was never going to be broad enough to tackle all of the current issues that the housing market has, but it does set out a framework which is targeted at addressing the bigger issues that need improvement. It highlights two main facts that could be to blame for the state of the housing market – that there aren’t enough local authorities planning for the homes needed and that house building is simply too slow.

The government is planning to force developers to increase their building rates by compulsory purchasing their land if they have not started building within two years (rather than three) after receiving planning permission, which should slowly but surely speed up the building process.

The government seem determined to build a stronger, fairer Britain, breaking down barriers to progress by making the big, difficult decisions that are right for Britain in the long term. Housing is increasingly unaffordable, whether you’re buying or renting, ordinary working class people are struggling to get on the property ladder, and that’s something that really needs to change. Plans to move away from home ownership and focus on creating more homes of different tenures – particularly shared ownership and private rent, should move us in the right direction.

People need security to plan for the future and having a home 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 and in the places where people want to live. Building homes that nobody wants to buy is a waste of time and money that could be better used elsewhere.

Councils will now be required to produce a realistic plan for housing demand and review it at least every five years. Currently, 40 per cent of local planning authorities do not have an up-to-date plan that meets the projected growth in the number of households in their area which is just not acceptable.

The government have also committed to the green belt, confirming that they will target abandoned sites in towns, cities and on brownfield land to build homes. Councils and developers will be expected to build more homes in areas where there is a shortage of land and in locations well served by public transport, places where people are more likely to want to live.

As 60 per cent of new homes are built by just 10 companies, which really isn’t a lot, the government will 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, so the more companies building, the better in my eyes.

We’ve been promised a lot this year and with the impact of Brexit and the outcome of the Autumn Statement coming into play we’re certainly going to see a lot of changes, and I for one am excited to see it all unfold.

10th February Journal Column

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

Last month, the Prime Minister, Theresa May announced a £170m investment in new institutes of technology, to boost the skills of 16 to 24 year olds as part of a new Modern Industrial Strategy. We’re constantly asking for more effort to be put into training and encouraging young people in to the industry, so it’s good to know that it’s part of the Prime Minister’s plan for post-Brexit Britain.
As we leave the EU, it’s important that we make our country one of the most competitive places to start and grow a business. We need to create a high-skilled economy, so that Britain stands tall, so we must improve skills and opportunities so we can close the gap between the best people, places and businesses.

The £170m for overhauling technical education is to be spent on setting up institutes of technology teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects). There will also be a reform of technical qualifications, a university-style application system for courses, specialist maths schools and action to tackle skills shortages. For a long time, technical education for school leavers has been neglected, with large differences in skill levels between regions and it’s time that finally changed.

The new technical colleges will give young people that want to pursue a technical career the same opportunities and respect given to those who go to university, and it means that overall, young people are being provided with more options to choose from after school. It is all part of the PM’s bigger plan to shake up technical education, ensuring young people develop the skills they need to do highly paid and high-skilled jobs.
Following the announcement of the industrial strategy, apprenticeship and skills minister, Robert Halfon MP visited Gateshead College. The plan is to have a full revamp of technical education, and the minister hopes the new strategy will lead to more institutions across the country following the lead of the College. It’s so important that we can offer young people every possible opportunity. There are plenty of options for those that want to take that academic route, but we must also cater for those who would prefer another route. The government’s long-term goal is to raise the position of skills and technical education as something as a prestigious as going to university. It’s very promising to hear that the North East is already ahead of the game in terms of technical education and colleges – well done us!

The Construction Industry Council, Constructing Excellence 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. For more information on the summit, contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 500 7880 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.