The Week That Was - 1 December 2023

Published on 01 December 2023

Welcome to The Week That Was, a round-up of key events in the construction sector over the last seven days.

Record-breaking plans for Manchester city centre

SimpsonHaugh has revealed plans for a 76-storey, 900-home tower in Manchester city centre. The architectural firm is already behind the five current tallest buildings in the city, but this new plan would take top spot.

The new design marks a significant change to the previous development plan which saw the area next to the grade-II listed Castlefield viaduct being revamped into a 15-storey office block. A planning application is expected to be submitted in the coming weeks with developers hoping to be on site next year. 

To see the plans or read more on the proposed development, please see here.

HSE to investigate Reading fire

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has launched an investigation following a blaze at the Sir Robert McAlpine site in Reading. The fire required 50 firefighters and aerial equipment to bring it under control and marks the second fire at the site. 

MP for Reading East, Matt Rodda, wrote a letter to HSE expressing his concerns and calling the safety watchdog to investigate. 

To read more on this, please see here

Responsible Actor Scheme gets teeth

The UK Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has published new guidance on how its ‘responsible actors’ scheme will work. Under the scheme, developers will be prevented from carrying out major planning permissions or receiving building control approvals if they fail to sign up to the scheme to fix ‘life-critical’ fire safety defects on their building projects going back 30 years. Those who do not join the scheme, or who get removed from the scheme for failing in their obligations face going on a ‘prohibited developer list’. There are currently no developers on the list. 

The prohibitions only apply to schemes where full planning permission is granted after 4 July and only to major developments, defined as having 10 homes or more, or being at least 0.5 ha or 1,000 sq m floor space in size. The government can exempt critical national infrastructure projects from the prohibitions. 

To read more on this, see here.

London office schemes resurgent

More London office builds commenced in the summer of 2023 than at any comparable period in the past 18 years, according to the Office Crane Survey from Deloitte. Summer 2023 saw a 16% jump in build starts from the previous winter, and was more than double the volume getting underway in the summer of 2022.

The shift towards working from home and the heightened cost of construction due to inflation and high interest rates dampened interest in new office buildings in 2021-22. During those years, in an 18-month period, only 94 commercial projects were begun in the capital, whereas in the nine months to September 2023, 93 commercial projects were begun.

The surge in new builds is not dampening demand for improvement works to existing offices, with 34 major schemes recorded which may have been driven by an anticipated tightening of energy-efficiency rules, as well as tenants’ own sustainability aspirations.

For more information, see here

Construction project starts in decline

While London office builds have increased, construction project starts in general have plummeted across the board as the sector battles a sluggish economy. 

The November issue of Glenigan's quarterly construction review shows that project starts fell 27% in the three months to October, falling 59% down on last year.  In addition, main contract awards declined 27% on the preceding quarter, down 51% on the same time a year ago. While detailed planning approvals registered a limited 1% rise (being a 17% increase on the year before), Glenigan's sector-specific and regional index, which measures underlying project performance, shows a "general decline", with project starts plummeting.

One glimmer of hope is in Glenigan's forecast that the industry will recover in 2024, with project starts expected to grow 8% next year. 

For more information, please see here.

Cladding safety contractors told to wear body cameras

Insurers have begun providing body cameras for contractors to record safety work being undertaken to buildings containing combustible cladding and insulation.

The purpose of the cameras is to recover evidence of the remediation work being undertaken to allow underwriters to assess risk and provide quotes with confidence, both now and in the future.  The aim is that, when works have been finished, the remediated buildings are an improved risk, with a consequent positive impact on policy premiums.

The cameras being provided by insurers are being descried as "cutting edge" and have the ability to livestream if required so that contractors can liaise directly with risk engineers.   

For more information, please see here.

Authors for this week's edition: Emma Higgins, Jonathan Chambers, Harry Langford-Collins

Disclaimer: The information in this publication is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  We attempt to ensure that the content is current as at the date of publication, but we do not guarantee that it remains up to date.  You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content.

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