The Week That Was - 24 November 2023

Published on 24 November 2023

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

Sniffer dogs used by National Highways to detect Japanese knotweed

Balfour Beatty's £250m M25 Junction 10 upgrade at Wisley has recently been assisted by a trio of working dogs tasked with identifying Japanese knotweed. 

National Highways' environment lead on the project, Pippa Jordan, explained the process: "before we start, we create a map of the area which shows nearby plant species allowing us to tackle any invasive species growing on the construction site.  In this case, we decided to put our paws on the pavement and take a unique approach to tackling the Japanese knotweed."

The dogs were trained to detect the rhizomes of Japanese knotweed and over the course of two days the dogs identified several areas where there were underground rhizomes that would have otherwise been missed. 

Click here to read more. 

Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) provides commentary on HSE data on workplace injuries, fatalities and disease

The CIOB has responded to HSE's latest data on work-related ill health, injuries and fatalities in the construction sector. Key data points released by the HSE include:

  • Work-related ill health in the construction sector: 3,340 per 100,000 workers (average of all industries: 4,150)
  • Non-fatal injuries: 2,640 per 100,000 workers (average: 1,520)
  • 49 fatalities in construction occurred in 2022/2023 compared to 29 in 2021/2022

Caroline Grumble, CEO at the CIOB, commented on the above figures: "while the risks of working in the industry compared to many other sectors will always be higher, there is clearly more to do when it comes to protecting worker safety.  We will continue to do all we can to play our part in keeping this subject high on the industry's agenda.

Grumble praised the reported instances of work-related ill health being lower than the average across all industries: "as a sector, a great amount of work has gone into improving worker wellbeing, and while there is always more that can be done, some of that work appears to be paying off."

The HSE data is available to view here, and the CIOB's response can be found here
Key measures in the Autumn Statement 2023 for the construction industry

Jeremy Hunt announced an "Autumn Statement for growth" on 22 November.  The Chancellor claims the 110 measures included in the statement will increase business investment by £20bn annually over the next 10 years. 

The announced measures include promises to build tens of thousands of homes, along with expediting the current planning process.  Some of the headline measures announced by the Chancellor include:

  • £110m pledge to deliver 'high-quality nutrient migration schemes' to unlock 40,000 new homes
  • £50m over two years to boost apprentice numbers in engineering and other key sectors for growth
  • £32m towards new homes to "bust the planning backlog"
  • £450m pledged to the Local Authority Housing Fund to deliver 2,400 new homes
  • A new permitted development right to allow any house to be converted into flats
  • £50m for "high quality regeneration projects

The full Autumn Statement is available here, with an overview of key measures available here

Bristol residents still unable to return to tower block following evacuation

Residents of Barton House in Bristol are still unable to return to their homes following an evacuation on 14 November due to a serious structural risk. Bristol City Council has claimed that the 15-storey block is at risk of collapse in the event of a fire, explosion, or serious impact. 

The Council has explained it is taking a "cautious but sensible approach" but that it appears there is "an error in the construction of the building" which was constructed in 1958 and is the oldest tower block on the council estate. 

The Council is yet to confirm when the residents are likely to be able to return to their homes. 

More information can be found here

Nearly 6,000 construction companies close to collapse

According to a report by Begbies Traynor, almost 6,000 construction companies are close to collapse.  As the slowdown in the residential housing market continues to bite, the construction and real estate sectors now account for almost 30% of all companies in the UK in critical financial distress, which it defines as having county court judgments exceeding £5,000 against them.  Begbies Taynor also reports that one in five construction companies in the UK are in a less precarious, but nonetheless significant, state of financial distress, which has likely been caused by companies taking on significant debt at low interest rates prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While many businesses were propped up by government support during the pandemic, more recent economic challenges, such as rising interest rates, inflation and decreased consumer confidence, have contributed to the current climate of financial distress in the construction industry.   

Click here to read more. 
Construction sector projected to bounce back from 2023 woes

Data firm Glenigan says that confidence in the construction industry is recovering on the hope that interest rates have now peaked.  Glenigan’s economic director Allan Wilen says "after sharp falls in starts and a challenging set of economic circumstances in 2023, construction can expect gradual improvement in market conditions over the next two years.  Interest rates now appear to be at their peak, and a gradual easing in rates from 2024 should help to rebuild private investors’ and homebuyers’ confidence and lift private sector activity.

Glenigan’s UK Construction Industry Forecast 2023-2025 suggests the rest of this year will be dominated by cautious private sector investment and a housing market slowdown and the construction industry will continue to struggle in the face of economic challenges but that output is nevertheless expected to grow by 15% over the next 2 years, estimating a growth of 8% in 2024 and further 7% in 2025.

Click here to read more. 

Authors for this week's edition: Mahsheed Ibram, Hannah Kendall and Emma Higgins

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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