The Road Ahead
However, in planning a return to pre-Coronavirus levels of activity, the construction sector must recognise the immediate challenges it faces. Right now, the sector is contracting, with results from March showing that total purchasing and output levels have been impacted by the pandemic. Similarly, architects are warning that since the beginning of March almost 40% of pre-construction projects have been put on hold. Whilst some construction projects may have halted due to uncertainty, it’s important that the industry is proactive in looking for ways to consolidate operations, protect the livelihoods of its staff and explore any potential new avenues for growth. Concurrently, it’s vital that the sector continues to make itself hospitable to young people and draws in new, talented workers to help bridge the skills gap.
Although the Coronavirus crisis is far from over, it has already had a big impact on how we live our everyday lives. Despite the fact many of these changes are difficult to get used to, they do present the construction sector with some hidden opportunities for growth. For one, the nation continues to need more homes, with the government still committed to its target of 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020’s. As an industry, construction must ensure that this target is met and reaffirm its commitment to building more houses.
Likewise, should the pandemic adversely affect levels of demand in the private housing market, it’s likely that the government will simply look to improve its existing social housing supply, which would also benefit the construction sector. There are already signs that this could be happening, and it would offer significant work for those in the sector. Since the pandemic, leading contractors such as Wilmott-Dixon have won major social housing projects, including a £59m development in Westminster. What’s more, Salford City Council’s planning committee recently approved a £105m housing development overlooking the River Irwell.
With many high-street retail outlets closed, more and more commerce is moving online, which is also creating demand for industrial parks and warehouse construction. Recently, the Mick George Group was awarded a multi-service construction package at the Magna Park Lutterworth logistics and distribution park. The exciting project, which entails a 7-million square foot expansion worth £20m, highlights the scale of projects available within this part of the sector. As such, businesses must look to be reactive and able to seize on new opportunities brought about by shifts in demand.
What’s more, it’s arguable that firms in the sector have never had so much government support. To this end, Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick recently outlined a policy, which allows building sites to operate until 9pm in residential areas, and for longer in non-residential areas, between Mondays and Saturday. It’s hoped that the policy can help businesses to ‘catch up’ on missed work, as well as ensuring shift patterns can be better staggered. Those that want to take advantage of this extension must apply for it through their local council. All applications will be approved unless there is a ‘very compelling’ reason not to.