The Main Construction Industry Challenges for 2019
As we look back on the thrills and spills of the past year, we’ve seen several issues that have had a serious impact on the construction industry here in the UK. The collapse of Carillion in January, the publication of the Hackitt Report and the tempering of growth predictions for the UK construction industry seem to pale into insignificance when compared with the continuing uncertainty over what we can expect post Brexit. Industry insiders currently claim that one of the most challenging issues facing British builders will be to deliver enough quality housing to meet the government’s proposed target of 300,000 new homes in the UK by 2025.
With the housing market growth expected to be reasonably modest, and the Chancellor’s predictions of growth in the 2017 budget, the Independent Review of Build out: Final Report by Sir Oliver Letwin, contains some insightful recommendations on how the government could encourage an increase in the build out rates on large construction sites by increasing the variety of housing types offered. It also suggested introducing more statutory powers to local planning authorities to promote this though industry leaders predict that the government is limited when it comes to influencing the housing market to the necessary degree when delivery is largely at the mercy of the private sector.
With the housebuilding industry lacking confidence largely due to the uncertain political climate as we approach Brexit, the Housing Minister will need to offer more attractive incentives, and this has resulted in Letwin advocating a more “joined up” approach with greater and more effective communication between government departments, agencies and private sector operators.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy has led to a greater onus on fire resilience and requires that multi-occupancy buildings are subdivided into separate compartments to avoid the spread of fire. The ban on combustibles in external wall cladding currently applies only to what are deemed higher risk residential buildings (18 metres and higher), though it’s expected that this ban will eventually be extended. Regulators and government departments will need to learn from the Grenfell fire and widen the scope in order to deliver fire resilience across the board in future.
The supply of skilled workers is considered a major obstacle in increasing the rate of build outs on large sites and this is likely to get worse post Brexit. In fact, Brexit is now considered to be the “single biggest threat” to the UK construction industry in 2019. The block making sector of our industry does not face such a risk from the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, mainly because concrete blocks are a local product, usually made from local constituents with a short supply chain. However, the timber industry is at risk from supply issues, rising costs and currency fluctuations which may see an increase in the demand for local concrete blocks in the near future.
In short, if we want to deliver more residential buildings to keep up with demand, the construction industry will require more traditionally built masonry homes to meet government targets. Letwin is also advising that new training programmes will need to be created in order to address the current and future skills shortage.