Is the construction sector carrying on regardless?

The CEO of Scaffolding Association partners, Builders’ Conference, Neil Edwards analyses the results from validated research carried out by BCLive for contract awards during the second wave of Coronavirus and subsequent UK lockdown.

When the first wave of the Coronavirus swept across the UK back in March this year, the UK construction sector suffered a barely perceptible lapse as it figured how it might work through a global pandemic. Having been identified early as “key workers”, the industry set in place extensive rules governing social distancing and quickly went back to work.

In an industry built upon regulations, construction adapted swiftly to the new normal, embracing evolving guidance and developing new ways of working safely. This continued throughout the summer. Then, as the shutters came down for a second time, businesses carried on – the UK construction industry seemingly refuses to accept the severity of the current situation.

In the month ending 30 September, Builders’ Conference aggregated information via its unique BCLive league table recorded more than £5.7 billion in new contract awards. Such a figure would be greeted with delight at any time, but amidst growing concern over a possible return to lockdown, £5.7 billion was verging upon the miraculous.

The figure was unquestionably boosted by a single £1.0 billion contract awarded to NU Living for a mammoth project in Purfleet, Essex. That project, for Thurrock Borough Council, was for the construction of 2,850 new homes together with a film and TV centre, upgrading of the train station and a new primary and secondary school.

In a month in which the house-building sector once again dominated, Wates Ltd and Laing O’Rourke claimed second and third positions for mixed-use development contracts with significant housing elements. Court Collaboration took the number four position with a single £280 million project at the Bull Ring Trading Estate in Digbeth, Birmingham.

The county of Kent might be braced prior to transforming from the Garden of England into the truck park of Europe, but a £200 million new build business park off Kingslanding Way in Tunbridge Wells offers some positivity.

Geographically, September was very much southern-focused with London delivering £1.63 billion in new work and Essex following close behind with more than £1.0 billion. Kent accounted for a further £337 million.

The North West enjoyed an upbeat month with 40 new projects worth a combined £654 million.

Meanwhile, West and East Midlands maintained their continued growth, contributing £384 and £254 million respectively.

Sadly, Scotland struggled to shake off the aftereffects of lockdown, languishing with just £112 million in new work across 24 individual projects.

October normally marks the beginning of the inexorable slide towards a festive slow-down. But as further evidence that we are all now living in a “new normal”, the sector abandoned tradition and instead recorded a hugely positive £6.35 billion in new contract awards on the BCLive league table.

As in September, that monthly figure was unquestionably buoyed by a single £1.0 billion contract, won by a Sigma Capital and EGT Real Estate joint venture for the creation of up to 3,000 private rental homes across Greater London.

Ballymore Properties rocketed to the number two slot on the BCLive league table, courtesy of a £500 million contract award to develop 1,500 new homes, 14,000 m2 of education space and 6,000 m2 of commercial space on London’s Isle of Dogs.

Graham Construction provided a much-needed shot in the arm for the Scottish sector, picking up four new contract awards worth a combined £346 million, the most notable of which was a £230 million hospital new build at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Amey won a £250 million contract for the refurbishment and repair of the Severn Bridge, Avonmouth Bridge and the M4 Prince of Wales Bridge. Spread over 15 years, that contract includes inspections, safety patrols and cyclic maintenance.

In a month that was once again dominated by the house-building sector, which contributed more than half the monthly league table total (£3.7 billion), there were welcome green shoots in health (£569 million) roads (£496 million) and education (£457 million) categories.

London once again led the regional countdown with 114 new contract awards valued at a combined £2.3 billion. But Scotland (£635 million), West Midlands (£534 million) and the South West region (£515 million) also enjoyed a positive month.

The pronounced imbalance between privately and publicly-funded projects remains; and the construction sector’s reliance upon house-building shows no signs of abating.

Quite how long construction’s resilience can hold out against the seemingly endless bad news onslaught is anyone’s guess.

Despite this, the industry has delivered more sterling figures amidst continued COVID-19 and Brexit uncertainty. Against that background, UK construction’s performance should be applauded.

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This article was originally featured in the 15th printed edition of AccessPoint, you can read the full magazine online by clicking below;

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