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It is predicted that the UK needs around 300,000 new homes every year for the foreseeable future, to tackle the housing shortage. That’s a staggering challenge, not just because this is such a huge number, but because these homes can’t be just any old houses. They should also be energy efficient, have as low an environmental impact as possible, and if they are going to alleviate the problem, many must also tick that all-important ‘affordable’ box.
Meeting this challenge is being made even tougher by low productivity in the construction sector, and a skills and materials shortfall which is only going to be worsened by Brexit.
In my opinion, we can’t meet this target using traditional construction methods alone – we must also take full advantage of offsite manufacturing techniques. As a director of a company specialising in offsite timber frame packages, I would naturally say that. But my views are backed up by the UK government, who in its autumn 2017 budget, said that it would favour offsite manufacturing on all publicly funded construction projects from 2019. That’s because the government has seen the myriad of benefits offsite construction offers. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has also recently taken oral evidence from housebuilders and engineers on the potential benefits of off-site manufacture in terms of building high quality, affordable housing.
Offsite is experiencing rapid growth – the industry is worth around £1.5 billion in the UK alone and is projected to rise to £6bn by 2025. This reflects the fact that construction companies are finally cottoning on to its many advantages. Homes can be built faster and to a higher sustainability standard when compared with traditional construction methods, making them more cost effective to build and live in. This has the extra bonus of addressing the issue of fuel poverty, as residents will benefit from reduced heating bills.
Delivering homes under factory conditions offers a clean working environment that is unaffected by weather, improving productivity and enhancing quality and safety. It also addresses the problems caused by our industry’s ongoing shortage of skilled workers, because offsite construction doesn’t require such a large workforce. It provides local jobs for local people and offers an opportunity for apprenticeships in design, manufacturing and building.
Scotland leads the way in timber frame construction, with 83% of new build Scottish homes using timber frame, compared to just 23% in England. This could partially be explained by timber frame’s impressive thermal performance, which is particularly welcome in Scotland’s colder climes. Timber frame is also a particularly attractive option for self-build, which has always played a larger role in Scotland. But self-build is now growing in popularity south of the border, thanks to the recent Right to Build legislation.
According to the Structural Timber Association, the market share for timber construction in England is steadily rising, helped by offsite technologies such as cross-laminated timber and structural insulated panel systems. The clear majority of UK homes may still be built using traditional masonry, but with a shortage of site skills and the rising cost of materials, even the biggest housebuilders are likely to start considering using timber frame more frequently in the near future.
Since Scotframe started out in 1989, we have expanded steadily and now have a £35m turnover, 160 employees and have just launched a new showroom in England. Last year the business was acquired by the global group Saint Gobain, and we expect this to help accelerate our expansion into markets south of the border.
So, if England’s housebuilders need any advice on how timber and offsite techniques can help them build high quality, cost-effective, sustainable, energy-efficient homes more quickly, I would encourage them to look north of the border to the wealth of knowledge and experience that Scotland has to offer.
Keepmoat has won a £18m contract to refurbish seven multi-storey towers in Aberdeen.
The firm has been appointed by Aberdeen City Council for the two-year Seaton 7 project to enhance the energy efficiency of the towers and refurbish the exterior and public spaces in each block. The new project follows on from a similar scheme elsewhere in the city.
Works will include installing a ‘rainscreen’ overcladding system for each tower block, new energy efficient windows, structural repairs and upgrades to public spaces such as the entrance and foyer.
Aberdeen City Council’s Convener of Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee Councillor Neil Cooney said:
“We have already renovated four blocks in the Seaton area and this will be another seven which have been identified through our asset management plan as requiring renovation work. The work will include overcladding, new windows and energy efficiency measures.
“The benefits of this are that as well as making the homes fully wind and water tight for the future the tenants or residents will benefit from reduced fuel bills through being connected to the city’s award winning Combined Heat and Power system (CHP) which generates an average of 50 percent saving on bills and 90 percent saving on carbon emissions.
Eamonn McGarvey, regional managing director for Keepmoat in Scotland, added: “We are delighted to be working with Aberdeen City Council on the ‘Seaton 7’ project.
“Over the next couple of years, the delivery of this project will see the energy efficiency of the buildings greatly improved, which will significantly benefit residents by providing warmer homes and allowing them to reduce utility bills while enhancing the Aberdeen skyline.”
The programme is expected to start in the next few weeks with Keepmoat employing 80 people for the work.
For sub contractors requiring assistance recovering disputed final accounts or retention monies please click on construction debt collection or call Glenwood on 0141 249 0373 for immediate assistance.
Small construction firms were owed an average of £484,000 by their trade debtors last year, research has found. The study of 550 company accounts for the 2013-14 financial year by debt recovery legal specialists Debt Guard Solicitors found the average SME construction firm was owed £484,000 by trade debtors. Trade debt represents money owed to a business – including current invoices and overdue payments – for goods and services supplied to customers over the course of its financial year.
The survey found smaller companies of between ten and 49 staff were worst hit and were owed an average of £627,000 by trade debtors, which equated to 16% of their turnover on average.Medium-sized firms of between 50 and 249 employees were only slightly better off with average outstanding trade debts of £969,000, which equated to just 13% of their turnover on average. Firms with 1-9 employees and a turnover less than £2m each had an average trade debt of £41,000, accounting for 14% of turnover.
Mark Burgess, chief operating officer at Debt Guard Solicitors, said: “This research highlights the financial headache caused by outstanding and unpaid bills in the construction sector.
The payment performance of well-known companies such as Tesco has been widely reported in recent weeks but waiting to get paid isn’t a just a problem for businesses supplying large companies. A survey by the Institute of Directors found that two thirds of small businesses had suffered as a result of not being paid on time.
My Credit Controllers has launched a new web tool to help affected businesses calculate the compensation they are owed by late-paying customers.
“Though it has been a statutory right since 2014 for businesses to bill commercial customers of any size for compensation when payments become overdue, this is not widely known,” said Sam White, CEO of My Credit Controllers. “Our online calculator shows you the interest and compensation payments you have a right to add to your bill.”
“We think the right to add charges to late invoices should be more widely known. For that reason we’ve provided instructions for others who want to add the calculator widget to their own websites.”
The UK Chancellor, George Osborne has given a clear signal that he is determined to introduce even more deep cuts for 2015. Will it damage the fragile recovery? Osbourne remains confident that his austerity measures are working but he still retains many critics who hope he is not too premature with his comments. With less than 4 months until a general election, business remains edgy over recovery prospects.
Poor results of large retailers announced in January 2015 following a dreadful Christmas trading period, gave rise for serious concerns. The UK is not out of the woods by any means, so caution on cashflow has to remain uppermost in most companies planning. In a recent Credit Management Index report there was comment that firms are marginally seeing a improvement in their cash collection.