The Week That Was - 8 September 2023

Published on 08 September 2023

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

Europe's Construction sector slows as demand plummets

The ING Group has reported that Europe's Construction sector is set to slow as demand drops, expecting zero growth for EU Construction volume this year.  Whilst many firms still have a healthy backlog of work, there are clear signs that volumes will start to shrink, with home buyers and firms reluctant to invest in new premises due to a weakened economy, high interest rates and increased building costs.  Further, manufacturers of cement, bricks and concrete – those right at the beginning of the value chain – are already facing sharp production declines.  Building material suppliers of these materials are registering an average fall in production of 13% in June compared to the same period last year.  The highest declines are faced in Austria (-15.0%), Germany (-15.6%), and The Netherlands (-19.5%). EU Construction is expected to decline 1% in volume in 2024.  

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HSE to carry out inspections focusing on the health risks of moving and handling materials on site

From 4 September 2023, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be carrying out inspections of construction sites, focusing on the health risks of moving and handling materials on site.  HSE is warning construction workers that failure to abide by correct procedures can lead to lifelong problems.  Previous inspections in 2022 found many examples of poor practices, some of which resulted in enforcement action.  The law requires employers to control the risks of ill-health of their workers, which includes pain in muscles, bones, joints and nerves that can develop over time, known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).  It has been estimated that 42,000 people in the construction industry suffer from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder. This amounts to 53% of all ill-health in the construction sector.  These inspections are in support of HSE's communication campaign of  "Work Right Construction. Your Health. Your future".

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RAAC: Buildings besides schools at risk from concrete failure

The discovery of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) has forced full or partial closure of more than 100 schools in England.

However, experts are warning that the scale of problem could be considerably greater than just schools.  Many other public buildings such as hospitals, court buildings and prisons were also built with the material, and also some private sector buildings.  There is also speculation that RAAC may have been used in council housing built between the 1950s and 1990s. The Local Government Association has ordered councils to check whether any of their buildings, including housing, contain RAAC.  Some social housing associations, including Clarion, the UK’s largest housing association, which owns and manages 125,000 homes, are also checking their housing stock.

Experts are advising that buildings built with RAAC may be beyond their usable life and that the issue has been flagged for years, including to government.  The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned that RAAC could "collapse with little or no notice".  The BBC reports that the RAAC issue is a "concrete crisis" which "has echoes of the cladding scandal" that followed the Grenfell Tower Fire.

You can read more here and here.
Court Closed for up to Nine Months after RAAC Discovery

Harrow Crown Court will be closed for six to nine months while reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) is replaced.  Cases due to be heard at Harrow will be listed at other sites across London and the south east.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service stated last week that they had carried out checks on all sites built between the 1960s-80s.  Following the discovery of RAAC at Harrow, this review has been extended to the 1990s.  The review has so far found that only 2% of the buildings used RAAC, however following the schools review (which has caused more than 100 schools to close due to the presence of RAAC), further reviews are expected.

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Welsh Auditor says Government is not doing enough on Building Safety

The external auditor for most of the Welsh public sector, Auditor General Adrian Crompton, has criticised the Government's implementation of the new building safety regime in Wales in a damning report which highlights "major concerns" that the regime is not being prioritised and appropriately resourced.

In particular, the report sets out that it is unclear on how some aspects of the regime will be implemented, and most local authorities and fire and rescue services have not yet set out how they intend to deliver the requirements of the Building Safety Act 2022.  It also highlights significant staffing challenges, due to an ageing workforce, poor planning and a lack of investment in training.  Finally, it raises concerns over the financial management practices of building control, which may not operate in line with the new regulations. 

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Housebuilders Welcome Planned River-Pollution Rule-Change

The Government plans to scrap regulations aimed at mitigating river pollution, which ministers say could allow thousands more homes to be built over the next 10 years.

EU requirements for nutrient neutrality on new residential developments have been scrapped under an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.  A development is nutrient neutral if it does not release harmful substances into surrounding waterways.  Since 2019, Natural England has issued advice to 74 local authorities around the nutrient neutrality issue, which has prevented the construction of an estimated 150,000 homes according to the Home Builders Federation. Housebuilders may instead have to contribute to the Natural England Nutrient Mitigation Scheme.

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Authors for this week's edition: Ciara Stewart, Gareth Jenkins, and Ava Mathias

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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