Major building fire in Nottingham. Industry impact

Last Friday evening news started to break of a large fire at the University of Nottingham’s Jubilee campus. News broadcasters and social media channels were streaming live images of a major incident unfolding. Thankfully nobody was hurt. However the fire it seems was a significant one. It completely destroyed the new £15m GlaxoSmithKline building which was around 70% built by Morgan Sindall.

Jubilee Campus Fire 2014
I know the University quite well having led the design and delivery of two new-build projects in the past, one of which is on the Jubilee campus. I was last down there just a few months ago for a meeting and saw this building emerging.

The proposal for the GSK building was innovative and placed a substantial emphasis on sustainability. The laboratory building was intended to be carbon-neutral over its lifetime and also targeted BREEAM ‘Oustanding’.

The fire investigations will hopefully reveal both the cause of the fire and why the damage was so total in terms of destruction. But one thing we do know is that the building had a structural timber frame, as oppose to more traditional steel/ concrete methods.

GSK University of Nottingham Fire
The use of timber in buildings has increased a lot in recent years, mainly due to its ‘green’ credentials. In simple terms; trees can be re-planted, whereas the environmental damage imposed by Steel and Concrete production are much greater. However, timber is also a solid fuel for fires and therefore risks are increased when using the material  in construction, especially where the full fire protection strategy isn’t fully in place (protection to structure, compartmentation of the building, sprinkler systems etc).

As it happens I worked on a timber framed student accommodation development with the University out at their Sutton Bonington campus a few years back. When we did this, we had to ensure that robust life safety evacuation procedures were in place during the build at all times, meaning more temporary escape stairs were formed on the building.

There have been mixed views in the construction industry for sometime now about the use of timber framed buildings, specifically in relation to fire risk and associated insurances. In July 2006 a six-storey apartment block in Colindale, North London caught fire during construction and the structure collapsed in less than nine minutes.

The fire last week is a setback for the University and I wish the teams involved in rebuilding this project the very best. But I strongly suspect the risks/ issues around using timber framed buildings will resurface within the industry, sooner rather than later. Clients, Construction firms and insurance companies will once again focus on whether timber framed buildings really are sustainable? – in more ways than one of course.

UoN Fire VC Blog

 

An open letter to Apple…

Dear Apple Inc,

I’ve been using your devices for a number of years now. In fact I have come to rely heavily on both your iPhone and iPad products for my day to day business. Notwithstanding the hopeless battery life on the phone particularly, both products have been pretty reliable.

I have updated the software as new releases have been issued by you to keep my devices up to date. However in using iOS 7.1.2 in recent months you appear to have created a conflict with .PDF file formats. I am now unable to view .PDF files on my devices properly. This is kind of critical to me as I both send and receive a lot of .PDF files.

Bad AppleSo my question is really very simple; When (after several months of waiting now!) are you planning to rectify this??

I’m looking forward to the imminent release of the iPhone 6 (or other such name), but my choice to acquire this when released will depend heavily on me being able to access .PDF files properly.

In the interim I will continue to consider switching to a Samsung Galaxy or perhaps the HTC one…

7640b463cac7decf65c571aca949d

Thank you.

Nick Riley.

One ‘Oarsome’ Expedition

Two young men, one rowing boat, and a non-stop unsupported trip across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to Salcombe!

Ocean Valour 2015_3
Every year we head down to Salcombe in Devon for our family summer holiday. This year I spotted a distinctive looking rowing boat out on the water. After a bit of searching I discovered ‘Team Ocean Valour‘; two young local adventurers who are planning an epic rowing expedition next May (2015). Their adventure has a compelling story so I contacted Tom Rainey and Sam Coombs to find out a bit more, and offered to help raise their profile a bit by writing a blog…

Their challenge is for the pair of them to cross the North Atlantic, from New York to Salcombe, in a rowing boat. Their objective is to be the youngest ever team to row from mainland USA to the mainland UK, entirely unsupported. To give some context to their mission, it’s a crossing which has been attempted around 60 times and completed by just 22 (with 5 crews lost at sea!) in 118 years of records. By compassion there have been over 5000 successful summits of Mount Everest.

Ocean Valour 2015_1
The idea emerged to raise funds for The Brain Tumour Charity, an organisation particularly close to Tom’s heart after sadly losing his father Luke in late 2012. The guys also wanted to use the row to raise awareness of the growing North Atlantic Garbage Patch; an area of man-made debris which stretches hundreds of square kilometers, with over 200,000 pieces of debris per square km. This is largely plastics which never dissolve and have a significant detrimental impact on the life of seabirds and marine mammals.

These two graduates are in their early twenties and have spent their whole life on/ around water. They studied Marine Environment at University in Plymouth and have represented GB sailing around the world. They are also surfers, ultra marathon runners and extreme white water kayakers. It’s safe to assume these guys don’t do things by halves!

I met Tom last weekend and had a tour around their amazing £45k rowing boat, purpose built by ocean rowing specialists Sea Sabre. The trip will cover 3800 miles and they will experience freezing conditions, winds of up to 80mph and waves equivalent to seven-storey buildings! This is one seriously hardcore 2+ month long Ice Bucket Challenge…in a rowing boat!

Ocean Valour 2015_4
The boat is pretty basic really, but has some important essentials…

  • It has the latest Communications and GPS/ Navigation kit which will help them navigate and be seen on the Ocean.
  • There’s solar panels for power and a water machine can convert sea water into drinking water.
  • Speakers have been built into central area so they can play music from iPods.
  • They have a Sea Anchor which is like a parachute. This will help them from drifting off course in bad weather.
  • The sleeping area is Bijou, but adequate for both of them to fit in. However they’ll be doing a constant 2 hour rotation most of the time for rowing.

I really admire what these guys are doing, it’s a genuinely massive undertaking and one they seem to understand well. They also have some experienced people around them who are advising. This expedition has to be ranked highly in terms of challenging the human body to its absolute limits, both physically and mentally. The reality is that not many people could do this sort of thing.

You can see more of their story as it happens on their website and donate to the mission for The Brain Tumour Charity. They want to raise £250,000, on top of their costs.

Personally I reckon they could smash this target, especially if they get some support so please help spread the word…

www.oceanvalour.co.uk
Follow them on Twitter @OV2015
Follow their page on Facebook ‘Ocean Valour 2015′

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

 

 

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