UK construction has seen its steepest rise in activity since 2014, as the domestic economy shows signs of recovering quicker than expected since lockdown restriction have begun to be lifted. The latest figures for March have shown that house-building, commercial projects and infrastructure work are all showing growth.
Despite trade flows being affected by Brexit and the pandemic, the IHS Markit/CCips construction activity index registered 61.7 in March, which is well above the 50 needed to indicate growth in the sector. The previous figure for February was 53.3, showing a significant jump in the rate of activity, and the sharpest growth since September 2014.
According to Tim Moore, economics director at IHS Markit, ‘March data revealed a surge in UK construction output as the recovery broadened out from house building to commercial work and civil engineering. Total activity expanded to the greatest extent for six-and-a-half years as residential spending remained robust, commercial projects restarted and infrastructure contract awards moved ahead.’
The figures are published amidst further positive news about the UK economy. New ONS data showed spending on credit and debit cards is up since the easing of lockdown started, suggesting that consumers are regaining confidence as over half of UK adults have received their first dose of the vaccination. April figures were at their highest level since the week before Christmas, and at 88% of their pre-pandemic average.
With the economy picking up, this is an exciting time to be starting work on new projects. If you’re looking for a subcontractor for your construction project, The TP Group would love to hear from you.
We’ve completed our most recent surfacing project with Hill Partnerships in Letchworth, the world’s first Garden City. The John Coxall Court site previously housed a two-storey 1970s sheltered housing block, demolished in 2017 to make way for new high-quality apartments for the over-55s.
The new scheme is the Howard Cottage Housing Association’s largest project for over 40 years. The complex almost doubles the number of homes available on the site, offering 71 state-of-the-art two-bedroom apartments along with communal facilities, which include lounge and living areas, a hair salon and a buggy store.
Our Surfacing and Coatings division undertook works on the external elements of the site; we were tasked with applying resin bound gravel to the pathways. In total, we’ve now laid down a whopping 480m2 of surface, consisting of both ‘buff’ and grey colour blends.
Winter weather conditions gave us some minor headaches causing small delays, but the job was completed in February. As always we’re glad to see the fruits of our labour, improving the environments and the quality of life of people living in the UK.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has confirmed new planning rules allowing the conversion of a vast array of high street premises into housing without planning permission. The measures will be brought in sooner than previously thought to help small businesses and high streets ‘bounce back from the pandemic’.
The new rules create a fast-track system under which unused commercial buildings will have permitted development to be converted into homes. Councils can only turn down applications on limited grounds, including flood risk, noise pollution and inadequate natural light, although any new homes created will also have to meet national space standards.
The system coming into force on 21 April is a modification on a previous proposal set out before Christmas, which drew criticism from the industry. The earlier proposal did not limit the size of the property, however, the revised rights are limited to premises of 1500sqm or less. Conservation areas, health centres and nurseries will also have protections, although they won’t be exempt.
Jenrick states that ‘By diversifying our town and city centres and encouraging the conversion of unused shops into cafes, restaurants or even new homes, we can help the high street to adapt and thrive for the future.’
Developers will be able to submit prior approval applications for conversion to residential on 1 August.
A new report by Historic England has concluded that retrofitting England’s Victorian homes could result in a significant cut to CO2 emissions, up to as much as 84%.
England’s housing stock is one of the oldest in Europe, with one in five buildings over a century old and in need of improvements. By bringing energy efficiency up to contemporary standards, retrofits would also cut emissions from Georgian terraces by 62%, 1900s terraces by 58%, Victorian semi-detached homes by 56% and Victorian terraces by 62%.
According to the research, the heating needs of homes vary considerably region by region. Emissions are currently 13.8% higher from traditional terraced homes in the North West compared to those in the South East.
The report comes hot on the heels of a backlash against an announcement this week that the government plans to spend £562m on upgrading 50,000 social homes. Alan Jones, president of the RIBA has decried the funding is ‘simply not enough’ and doesn’t acknowledge the scale of the problem.
Last month the government also said it was cutting around £2bn from its £3bn Green Homes Grant, leaving the scheme with just £320m until March 2022.
At The TP Group, much of our residential work involves refurbishment. Our fleet also has FORS Bronze accreditation demonstrating our commitment to reducing CO2 emissions.
The steepest rise in commercial activity since September has given construction a boost, helping the sector make a solid return to growth after a decline in output at the start of the year. As a whole, the sector has made a recovery, despite housebuilding slowing down due to bad weather and delays with materials.
The rise in activity was caused by contracts that had been delayed earlier in the pandemic, according to respondents to the latest IHS Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) survey. An increase in infrastructure work from major transport projects was also partly to be thanked.
Recruitment and the rate of job creation, meanwhile, are at their highest since March 2019, due to the increased workloads. While cost burdens have risen sharply during the same period, the firms behind the survey maintained that the successful vaccine roll-out has given the construction sector a sense of optimism not felt for five years.
According to IHS Markit economics director Tim Moore, construction is now the ‘fastest-growing major category of UK private sector output’.
Housebuilding remains ‘the engine of recovery’ for UK construction according to Moore. But with the materials shortage hopefully easing, weather conditions improving as we move towards spring, along with the extended support announced in the March budget, the industry is in a strong position to gather enough momentum for a full recovery.
Three and a half years after the Grenfell tragedy, two new developments are taking place to help the UK construction industry regain public trust.
Last month, housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced a new regulator for construction products has been set up. The new watchdog will not only be able to ban building products that are deemed unsafe, but also have powers to prosecute companies flouting regulations, with offences punished using fines and even imprisonment. The body will also have the ability to conduct its own product testing to investigate concerns.
The announcement followed some of the disturbing revelations of ‘dishonest practice by some manufacturers’ that have come to light through the Grenfell Inquiry. As Jenrick stated, this included ‘deliberate attempts to game the system and rig the results of safety tests’.
At the same time, the Construction Products Association (CPA) has looked at a different side of the industry – marketing communications – in the wake of the issues raised in Dame Judith Hackitt’s report. The CPA has developed a new, proposed Product Information Code as a benchmark for how products are marketed and product information disseminated by manufacturers.
Now in consultation phase, the code represents two years of open debate and engagement from different levels of the supply chain. It consists of eleven clauses, and has been published for the industry to review and respond to the proposal.
The TP Group welcomes both launches as important steps in the right direction for an industry whose reputation has been damaged. These will help anchor best practice and ensure serious issues are addressed appropriately and as an industry, construction regains credibility in the public eye.
Among the variety of new hobbies discovered by Britons during the pandemic has been a new enthusiasm to revamp our homes. Trapped indoors with not much to do, it makes sense to make your environment the best it can be. This renovation boom has been driving record sales for builders’ merchants, with growth rates of 10% – higher than ever before, according to John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF).
A knock-on effect from this, however, is the growing shortage of essential construction materials. And as builders are fighting to get their hands on products, the housebuilding industry is in danger of experiencing delays this year. In the face of unprecedented demand that far outstrips supply, UK factories are struggling to keep up.
These challenges are coupled with the ongoing congestion at large UK container ports such as Felixstowe. A consequence of Brexit, it may result in the industry running short of necessary equipment. Although three quarters of materials are produced in the UK, essentials such as power tools, screws and fixings tend to be shipped in from overseas.
While Newcomb doesn’t believe this is having a major impact on contractors and housebuilders just yet, he sees delays a strong likelihood unless the pressure eases up over the next couple of months. The imbalance of supply and demand will even out, Newcomb maintains, but what we are seeing is still a ‘spillover effect from April, May when factories were closed’.
Mindful of these pressures, The TP Group are keeping a close eye on our stock levels and are in close contact with our suppliers, managing to source all materials during this time. Get in touch to find out more about our services.