The UK Construction funnel problem

Earlier this year I attended a conference in London where Mark Farmer of EC Harris articulated some serious concern about the volume of construction activity in the pipeline and the likely ‘blockage’ that would occur with Main Contractors and Sub-Contractors, specifically in relation to their ability to respond to market demands. The issue being a lack of resources – and materials in some cases (brick availability being a big problem).

It seems that investors and developers have funds and are pushing projects forward at pace now – some of which are large, especially in the Residential sector. However the anticipated delivery/ supply chain blockage is now being realised…

UK Construction Funnel

At present we are engaged in the development of circa 3500+ Residential dwellings in London on numerous sites. In addition, following recent instructions, we have a fairly similar figure again in the UK regions – Manchester being a particular hotspot. Our Residential team is continuing to grow with our group team nearing 130 staff in recent weeks.

Our work winning success seems to be as a result of our focused/ efficient operating model, the scale and diversity of our team experience, and our extensive use of BIM. A big strategic focus for the group is on diversification and this is working very well for us. We’ve recently been appointed on Student Living, Education, Industrial and Healthcare related projects, in addition to our existing ever growing port-folio of Residential, Retail and Leisure work.

One thing that’s fueling the surge of major projects in construction is the significant interest and activity in the emerging ‘built to rent’ or ‘private rented sector’ (PRS), to deliver large Residential products, these are funded by institutional and international funds. This is something we’re involved with at present.

Our London projects are perhaps proving the most challenging at present, in terms of Tender dialogue, as Main Contractors are needing to be very selective about what they can physically handle. Furthermore sub-contractors are struggling to respond to pre-construction programme demands in terms of finalising designs and cost plans.

So the wider impact of all this could be significant, with cost plans rising and construction programme’s becoming protracted in some cases. It’s been reported in the press over the last week or so that brick layers are earning £1000 a week now. There’s a sense of the tail waging the dog here!

This issue won’t resolve itself quickly. There is now a clear skills and resources shortage in the Construction industry which simply can’t handle the current demands of the Property and Investment sector.

There’s a real irony here of course; The Construction sector has been the worst affected by the recession, by some margin. Now the recovery has recently occurred so quickly that the sector simply can’t cope with demand. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the 12 months as developers and contractors race to complete projects on site.

So whilst we as architects are incredibly busy bringing new developments to market, the challenge will remain for sometime yet in terms of building these on site effectively.

Measurable results from MIPIM…

Every February/ March, the property world talks lots about MIPIM. It’s a big annual property conference in Cannes, I’ve blogged a number of times about it. People who haven’t been or don’t understand MIPIM, can see it as an extravagance and there are always questions about what you get from it. The honest answer is, you don’t come back with an order book full of projects. It’s about making connections. Some of those connections take time and the right opportunity to develop to the next stage.

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The last week seems to have been a strong one in terms of developing MIPIM connections. I have;

- Set up a meeting between two developers I met at MIPIM this year. Whilst it’s early days, this introduction could prove very valuable.

- I’ve made contact with a high profile architect I had dinner with at MIPIM in 2013 and we’re discussing a potential collaboration for a high-rise development in London we’re involved with.

- I’ve set up a meeting with a high profile developer to discuss a Student Living brand of their residential development business.

These are all results of meetings I would not have had, or not been able to set up easily, back in the UK. To start a conversation or email with “We met at MIPIM…” always opens the door in my experience. So I’m reminded again that MIPIM is important and can add real value to doing business in property.

In October there will be the first MIPIM UK event. I’m in two minds as to whether the MIPIM of Cannes can be recreated in London. I have strong doubts as to whether it will work. I’m sure people will go, but it simply can’t be the same as Cannes and I question whether people will generate connections in the same way.

Local resistance to 400 New Homes in Allestree

Last week I wrote a blog in response to a proposal to build 400 new homes in Allestree…well, actually they would be in Quarndon. Click here to see it.

Following my blog I had a lot of responses. One was from Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham. Pauline asked me to attend a public meeting to explain to local residents how the Planning process works for a development like this. The meeting this evening was attended by around 250 local residents.

The initial proposal for the site can be seen in more detail by clicking here. The plan below illustrates how the scheme might look. The road to the right hand boundary is Kedleston Rd.

Allestree extension
Concerns raised so far seem to focus on the following;

  • Impact upon the historic Kedleston Hall/ Estate.
  • Impact upon infrastructure, particularly roads which, are already congested at peak times.
  • Impact on local schools (Curzon in Quarndon, Portway, Lawn, Woodlands and Ecclesbourne).
  • Lack of local medical facilities (GP surgery’s, Dental practices etc)
  • Environmental impact (green space, views, trees, wildlife and flood risk).

All of these concerns are completely valid and should be considered as part of a robust Planning application process. However, if the developer can satisfy the local authority that the proposal will be sustainable and, importantly, complies with relevant policies, then the scheme could go ahead.

You can find out more about the local Planning policies by clicking here.

The problem however as I see it, and it is a serious one, is that the site is within Amber Valley Borough Council control (not Derby City which, all of the remainder of Allestree sits in). What this means is that Amber Valley will administer and determine the Planning Application, but the greatest impact will be on residents of Allestree. Furthermore any potential financial contributions towards improving amenities and infrastructure (through a Section 106 agreement or Community Infrastructure Levy) may sit with AVBC, with Derby City Council only getting limited benefit. The same will apply to Council Tax if the dwellings are built.

Having spent some time in the last week researching this proposal a bit more, it seems clear that this site has been identified for sometime as a potential zone for the urban expansion of Derby. Both Derby City and Amber Valley have high demand for new housing supply to be built and this is reinforced by central Government.

Having considered the points people have raised in terms of concerns/ objections, I suspect most, if not all of them, can be dealt with through relevant policies.

I absolutely understand and appreciate the resistance of local residents to this proposal and the impact it will have. But most of these can probably be addressed by the developer and the relevant Local Authorities.

  • The direct impact on Kedleston Hall would be minimal.
  • The roads will be more congested and the highways may require modification’s/ improvements (Five Lamps is the big problem for me – and always has been).
  • A new school may be on the cards if the existing schools can’t handle further expansion (and that seems to be the case).
  • Further medical facilities may be required.
  • The Environmental impact can perhaps be managed – It might even be improved through more trees/ wildlife habitats, better flood mitigation control.

From my personal perspective; I’d rather this scheme was not permitted/ developed. But in my honest and professional opinion, at this stage, I predict that the odds are stacked in favour of this getting a green light from an objective Planning Policy and Strategic/ Political point of view.

The Outline Planning application is due to be submitted in September 2014. At this point all documentation relating to the proposal and its compliance with policies will be publicly available.

If the opposing residents of Allestree really want to stop this development from happening, I’d suggest that they will need to engage a suitable professional Planning Lawyer to interrogate the proposals/ application. This of course may not be a fruitful endeavour.

Change seems inevitable to me.

Volvo | Clever cars. Safer cars. Simples

A couple of months ago I took delivery of a new company car. After much deliberation, the model which ticked the most boxes was the new Volvo XC60. It’s big, quite quick, economical on fuel, well kitted out, uber safe and the tax is pretty low.

I’ve been very impressed with it so far in the 4000 or so miles I’ve done. The only things that bother me a bit are the firm sports suspension and the automatic stop/start, which is to save fuel. Apparently. I quizzed a friend who’s in R+D at Toyota on this and he said that ‘stop/ start’ doesn’t really make a big difference. The engine has to be off for 15 seconds for it to save any fuel. Mine seems to shut off for a matter of 2-3 seconds for the most part!

volvo xc60
I did however get a bit of a shock recently when my car decided to stop itself! All new Volvo’s have an automatic braking safety system, called City Safety. It stops the vehicle if you are traveling at low speed and it senses an imminent impact. Mine activated when I pulled into a parking space a little enthusiastically. I was confident I could stop, but the car wasn’t so convinced.

You can see a demo video on how this system works by clicking here.

So why am I blogging about this you might ask?

Well, having given this a bit more thought, it occurred to me what a genuinely great idea this is. Yes, its a good safety feature and it will help mitigate collisions and injuries, but it could also significantly reduce the amount of fraudulent whiplash injuries and the inevitable claims for compensation that follow! These have a huge impact on Insurance Premiums.

The Association of British Insurers estimates that 7% of all motor claims are fraudulent, and that dishonest personal motor insurance frauds worth £441 million are claimed each year.

A few years ago someone went into the back of my car (an incident that could have been avoided if City Safety was installed). The cars got fixed and all was fine, including myself. However, for weeks/ months afterwards I received calls from third party claims companies offering me compensation. I refused every time, but they seemed shocked that I didn’t want to pursue a claim! These companies make money out of claims so it’s obviously big business.

This is a serious issue which Central Government are looking into. You can see a MoJ report on this here. I think they should stop claims companies from advertising so much and implementing aggressive cold-call campaigns to drive business. How do they get peoples personal details and information about accidents?

Surely the answer is “simples”; to reduce the number low speed accidents and potential false claims, make all car manufactures install this safety feature on their cars…

Simples

 

 

Allestree in Derby to get bigger?

I have lived in Allestree, Derby for most of my life. I grew up there and moved back with my family last year. It’s a great place to live in Derby, with great amenity facilities and easy access to the City and Countryside.

Demand for housing in Allestree seems very high at present. Homes are selling incredibly fast and values are pretty healthy. Family housing seems to sell well, probably due to the excellent schools.

Last week I learnt of a proposal to develop 400 new homes on the western edge of Allestree on open land, bounded by Kedleston Road. This is between Allestree Lane (the Markeaton pub) and Askerfield Avenue (before the split between Allestree and Quarndon).

Allestree

Catesby Property Group are undertaking a pre-application public consultation to inform and assess local reaction to the idea. A website has been set up which provides some information about the proposal. This can be seen by clicking here. There is also a public exhibition being held this THURSDAY 10TH JULY.  This will be between 2pm-8pm at the Royal British Legion, 39 Cornill, Allestree, DE22 2FS,

I’m sure there will be some resistance to this idea. However its important to consider this in some form of logical context.

Allestree has around 13,000 residents at present so an increase of 400 homes might increase that number by circa 10%. Allestree covers a total area of around 300 hectares. The proposed site area is around 18 hectares, so a 6% increase in land area would be developed.

Allestree is heavily constrained in terms of zones for any meaningful growth. The southern and Eastern edges are bounded by Markeaton Park, The University of Derby and the A38 dual carriageway. The northern edge is largely bounded by Allestree Park and an important greenbelt strip dividing Allestree and Quarndon. The northern boundary of Allestree is also the divide between Derby City and Amber Valley Local Authorities.

Any suggestion that this scheme would negatively impact upon the Kedleston Estate are pretty tenuous in my view. The Hall is not visible from the site and in fact the sites visibility is pretty minimal generally. However its interesting to see that the Kedleston Road boundary hedges have been left to grow to some height in the last year, whereas historically they have been cut quite low.

A strong and negative precedent to enable this development has been set by the poor Planning control of the large mansion houses which have been built on Somme Road.

At this early stage I am open-minded to considering this idea. This potential development is of a fairly large scale and will have an impact on Allestree, but provided the infrastructure can support this growth (roads, schools etc), then I can see how it might work.

Nottingham means Business

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I’ve spent the last 14 years working in, and being a huge supporter of ‘Nottingham’. It’s a great city and I, like a lot of other people I know, believe it has the potential to be even better! My allegiance isn’t exclusively focused on Nottingham; I support other places too where I have worked and have relevant views on them. But Nottingham is, and will continue to be, a city I support through my work.

In recent months my circumstances have changed. I don’t work in the city anymore, but I do have some really close contacts there and I continue to spend time in the city. My ‘office’ is Browns at the moment!

One group I have spent a lot of time with over the years is the Invest in Nottingham Club. This was set up by the late Jim Taylor; a great man and a true ambassador of Nottingham. Jim asked me to sponsor a club lunch a couple of years ago. The reason he did this was because the event was to be held at the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee Campus. Jim had realised that one of L&H’s buildings was being built on site right outside the event space. He thought it would be really good to see some real work, which was supported by a number of club members. Jim was good at making these sorts of connections.

The Invest in Nottingham club is in an exciting period of evolution. Before Jim passed away, he appointed Simon Gray as Chief Executive. Simon works with Chairman Paul Southby and the team. I’ve spent some time with Simon over the last few months and shared my views with him on how the Invest in Nottingham club should perhaps change/ improve. The great thing about the club is that people are really keen to support it and want to make it as effective as possible, for the greater good of the city.

Last week I attended an excellent club lunch, it was actually the best one I’ve ever been to. RizkMcCay, Nottinghams leading brand and marketing agency, hosted the event and presented some stimulating and impressive thoughts on the impact of branding. Even their biscuits are branded! I really admire their work – it just seems to work every time.

RM Biscuits

The big news at the lunch was the re-brand of Invest in Nottingham club. It’s new name is Nottingham means Business. The intention is for the public/ private sector business club to have a more defined identity and purpose. The slogan is; Inform. Inspire. Invest. And those three words succinctly define the purpose of the club going forward. The new website, created by RizkMcCay of course, is really good and includes full members profiles for all companies involved. Take a look at the new site here. There’s also a launch video – click here to see it.

It’s been an interesting week, with two major launches; Nottingham means Business and my companies restructure at wcec group ltd.

 

Expansion and strategic restructure for WCEC Group Ltd.

WCEC Architects are delighted to announce a strategic restructuring of the multi-disciplinary design practice, launching as WCEC Group Ltd with immediate effect. Despite the economic challenges which have heavily affected the Construction sector in the last five years, The WCEC Partnership has enjoyed some tangible growth and success, which makes our Chesterfield based architectural practice one of the largest in the Midlands, with over 120 staff.

WCEC Group Celebrate new Company Launch2

In the last two years we have managed significant growth and diversification of the business; in terms of geographical coverage, active work sectors and in developing a range of additional service offerings.

The practice continues to be led from the head office in Derbyshire, with other regional hubs in Central London and Scotland. The strategic restructuring of the practice has also facilitated the opening of a new office in Central Leeds to further support an already strong regional presence. This will be managed by Regional Director, Ian Lowson.

Building on our established retail portfolio, we offer a wide range of sector specialisms which include Residential, Leisure, Education, Commercial and Industrial. Our most significant project is the Royal Wharf development in London with Ballymore Developments.
In addition to the core business of architecture, we also offer four specialist services; WCEC BIM Consult, WCEC Environmental, WCEC Visualisation and WCEC Interiors.

As part of the new business launch, we have also re-branded and updated our website to give a more contemporary impression of the business and showcase our latest work. Click here to see it.

WCEC Group LaunchCommenting on the restructure, managing director Alex Wall says; “Given our somewhat unprecedented recent success and growth, we have taken the decision to become incorporated, with effect from 1st July. The newly formed WCEC Group Ltd will further enable us to expand our offer to new clients, across a wide range of sectors. We have formed a new larger Group Management Board of Directors; this will comprise the former partnership of Ashley Turner, James Kemp and I, with the addition of new board directors Jason Ainsworth and Dave Savage adding further strength to the practice’s senior management team. We have also introduced a new team of Design, Technical and Regional Directors to the new structure”.

Board Director Jason Ainsworth adds; “Our historic core work streams have been favourable in an otherwise depressed marketplace. We have managed the business carefully during this time and have focussed substantial investment in diversifying our offer, maximising efficiency through our work in BIM and in ensuring our Quality Management procedures are the very best. As we look ahead we are predicting record turnover for the business”.

In terms of my personal role within the Group, I’ve been promoted to a Design Director. My role will continue to focus on Business Development; both strategic and client-facing, and I’ll be responsible for leading and overseeing new projects from concept to Planning stage.

Exciting times for a genuinely progressive and forward thinking business.

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