Building News is an information portal for all professional building specifiers. Here you can find all of the latest construction news from around the UK and the rest of the world.

Home energy improvements which cut emissions and bills for over 300,000 low-income families every year will only be done by trusted tradesmen, under new government plans.

The government’s new quality scheme, delivered by ‘TrustMark’, will increase protection for low-income and vulnerable households, helped with free energy-saving measures like insulation and new boilers, under the Energy Company Obligation (ECO).

Emissions from buildings account for nearly 25% of overall carbon emissions, which the government is committed to reducing. Just weeks ago, the UK became the first G7 economy to put into law a commitment that Britain will reach net zero greenhouse gas emission economy by 2050.

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Chris Skidmore, said “Driving up the energy efficiency of Britain’s homes is key to us reducing emissions from households, saving people money on their bills as we legislate to become a net zero emissions economy and end our contribution to global warming entirely.

“This new scheme will guarantee low-income households the peace of mind that workmen installing energy efficiency measures in their homes are trusted tradesmen.”

Around 15% of households take an energy efficiency measure each year, with over one million installing additional or replacement loft insulation and over one million upgrading to double glazed windows.

The new ‘Each Home Counts’ quality mark will help reassure households having work done on their homes that the companies have met the appropriate standards for installing insulation and new central heating systems in their homes.

Consumers who want energy efficiency measures installed on their own homes will be able to search the TrustMark website for trusted and certified tradesmen, checking their installers are recognised before they start work on their homes.

The new mark builds on the well-established government-endorsed ‘TrustMark’ scheme, which vets businesses. It ensures they meet industry standards, have good technical competence and trading practices, and have a commitment to providing good customer service.

Customers can already access free and impartial advice on reducing their energy bills, making their homes warmer and planning green home improvements from Simple Energy Advice.

Energy efficiency industry is worth £20.3 billion in Great Britain, employing nearly 150,000 and selling exports worth over £1 billion every year.

The Government has not properly prepared the construction industry for major VAT changes coming in October and needs to delay their implementation to avoid chaos, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) has said in a letter to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

New data published by the FMB shows that:

  • Over two-thirds of construction SMEs (69%) have not even heard of reverse charge VAT; and
  • Of those who have, more than two-thirds (67%) have not prepared for the changes

This comes after HMRC published guidance on reverse charge VAT just four months before the changes were due to come into place. This has been criticised for being inaccessible to most in the industry and is even contradictory in places. HMRC was also due to have a dedicated website and marketing campaign for the changes to help prepare the hundreds of thousands construction companies who will be impacted by the changes.

Reverse charge VAT will have a serious impact on cash flow, as well as being a significant administrative burden, fundamentally changing the way construction companies invoice their clients and pay their taxes to HMRC.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said “Construction companies are already struggling with Brexit uncertainty, sky-rocketing material price rises and skill shortages and reverse charge VAT is yet another thing for them to deal with. What makes things worse is that HMRC has failed to deliver on its promise to help the industry to prepare. The guidance is not user-friendly and even tax experts are scratching their heads over it.”

“It’s therefore not surprising that the vast majority of construction SMEs are not aware of the impending changes, despite widespread promotion by the FMB. Small business owners are busy people and clearly they don’t have time to read everything we send them. For those who are aware, they haven’t had a chance to change their systems yet as they were waiting for guidance to be published that has only just emerged. That’s why we are calling on the Government to delay the changes by another six months and to use the extra time to improve the guidance and work with us to undertake a more intensive communications campaign. HMRC should also consider holding workshops across the country to explain the changes.”

A growing East Midlands housing provider has been named as a pioneer in a new book which will be used by procurement experts throughout the world.

Futures Housing Group features in a new academic textbook by Professor David Mosey of King’s College London – “Collaborative construction procurement and improved value”.

Futures, which manages 10,000 homes throughout the East Midlands, is highlighted for being the first in the world to use the professor’s FAC-1 framework.

It is a unique approach to procurement which enables small business win chunks of large contracts and levels the supply chain playing field. It has now been used across the world in £40 billion worth of construction tenders.

John Thornhill, the Group’s former procurement and contracts manager, said: “We first looked at FAC-1 when it was in the original consultative draft in early 2016.

“We then became the first-ever adopters of the contract and to be involved with Professor Mosey’s research with King’s College is a huge reward for a regional housing provider.

“Futures proved it is possible to create a tender which includes measures attractive to SMEs but open to all.

“For the contract now to be responsible for £40 billion construction collaborations world-wide and for us to be the first is a source of great pride for Futures Housing Group.”

The book will be used primarily as one of the key parts of the syllabus for teaching Masters level construction law at King’s College London but is likely to be used by procurement academics and experts across the globe.

Futures Housing Group is an award-winning, growing housing provider which manages nearly 10,000 homes throughout the East Midlands. But we’re much more than just a landlord.

We also own a grounds maintenance social enterprise called Futures Greenscape; we co-own Access Training, a Midlands-based further education provider, and we own a commercial development company called Limehouse.

For more information on Futures Housing Group, visit www.futureshg.co.uk.

 

 

The skill shortage in the construction industry is well documented, but schemes are being introduced to change the perception of the industry, here we report on one of those schemes.

A new north-east scheme aims to showcase construction as a buoyant, exciting and potentially lucrative sector to work in.

The Build Your Future schools challenge is aimed at S2 secondary school pupils as they decide which subjects to take in third and fourth year.

Every secondary in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire will be invited to submit a team of 10 pupils, meaning there could be as many as 300.

It is being organised by Grampian Construction Training (GCT) and Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), with several key partners.

The scheme is part of a series of challenges designed to inspire young people to consider careers in the sector as well as tackling skills shortages.

GCT, CITB and the other project partners previously launched their Bridge Building construction challenge for primary school pupils.

The latest event involves initial half-day heats, which will take place in October and November at different locations, building towards a one-day final in January.

Several schools have already confirmed they will take part.

Aberdeen Association of Construction Professionals chairwoman Michelle Forth said: “For several years now, different groups have been working on a range of projects to engage with pupils at an early stage.

“Our hope is that this challenge offers one platform for each of these groups to come together.

“This will in turn allow us to demonstrate the diverse and exciting range of career opportunities available within construction.

“It can also familiarise students with different learning and working environments.”

Source: The Press and Journal

by Steve Hanley

The North Sea Wind Power Hub program — a consortium consisting of European energy companies  TenneT, Energinet, and Gasunie together with the Port of Rotterdam — is seen as a way for the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Norway, Germany, and Denmark to meet their goals for decarbonizing their economies as agreed to in the Paris climate accords in 2015. After extensive studies and in consultation with all appropriate government stakeholders, NSWPH has announced that its plan for up to 10 offshore wind energy hubs is technically feasible

The consortium says its goal is to “generate energy from renewable sources while simultaneously realizing the same at the lowest possible environmental impact and cost.”

“In the future (after 2030), once large, far-offshore wind regions have been defined for development, it will be possible to develop several hubs that will act as central platforms for supporting the infrastructure required to transport the energy, e.g. for converting electricity into gas (including and in particular green hydrogen) instead of using the offshore converter platforms commonly used at the moment.

“The relevant wind power capacities in question range from 70 to 150 gigawatts by the year 2040 and up to 180 gigawatts by 2045 in the North Sea and are intended to be developed using a modular, gradual approach. Depending on the scope of the development, the NSWPH could lay the foundation for supplying hundreds of millions of Europeans with green energy.”

According to an article by Marine Executive, the three types of foundations that could be used for the hubs are:

  • Sand island for 12, 24, or 36 GW installations with an approximate construction time of eight years
  •  Caisson island in shallow waters for up to 6 GW capacity with estimated construction time of three years
  • Platforms that use a jacket or gravity-based structure with an approximate construction time of three years

While island-based foundations can reduce investment costs and enable larger scale interconnection hubs at lower costs, the smaller platforms can reduce environmental impact, planning risk, and construction timelines.

Getting Power To The Shore

The first hub and spoke project will likely be connected to the shore using undersea cables, but for larger hubs located further offshore in deeper water may use the electricity generated to create hydrogen gas which would then be shipped ashore.

For any given hub size, the total investment costs for the transmission assets were found to be similar for all-electric, all-hydrogen, and combined electricity and hydrogen configurations. Also, the spatial requirements are similar for the different configurations.

The fact that the plan is feasible does not guarantee it will become a reality, of course. But it does mean energy companies in Europe are thinking in terms of lowering carbon emissions in the electrical sector, a vital part of meeting the objectives of the Paris climate accords.

 

Source: Cleantechnica

A ‘no deal’ Brexit could result in soaring material prices and lower workloads and enquiries, according to the latest research from the Federation of Master Builders (FMB).

When asked about the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit: Key results from the research include:

  • Over half (53%) say it would result in higher material prices;
  • Just under a third (29%) say it will lead to lower workloads and enquiries;
  • Just over a quarter (26%) say it would result in less access to skilled workers.

When asked how best the new PM could prevent an economic downturn later this year, the top five interventions cited by construction SMEs were the following:

  1. Reduce VAT on repair, maintenance and improvement (87%);
  2. Make more money available through Government funding schemes aimed at SME house builders, such as the Home Building Fund (36%);
  3. Reform the Apprenticeship Levy so more SMEs can train apprentices (36%);
  4. Invest funds in local authority planning departments to speed up the planning process (30%);
  5. Embark upon a national programme of social house building (25%).

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said “As the Conservative leadership contest rumbles on, construction SMEs are worried about the potential impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which would have immediate and potentially disastrous consequences for the construction industry. Material prices are the biggest cause for concern – widely-used building materials such as timber are largely imported and any disruption to that would lead to soaring prices and delays to construction projects. More broadly, a significant proportion of construction SMEs think that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would result in lower workloads and enquiries as confidence in the economy might wobble as people abandon plans for new projects until the UK is on a steadier footing.”

“However, the next PM has it in his gift to guard against any potential economic downturn by stimulating activity in construction and house building as soon as he gets the keys to No.10. Construction SMEs believe that the best way to do this would be to slash VAT on housing, renovation and repair work from 20 per cent to 5 per cent, which would help tempt homeowners to finally commission the home improvement projects they’ve been putting off due to Brexit-related uncertainty. This would give a much-needed boost to the construction sector and the wider economy. The next PM should also make more money available to SME house builders through government funding schemes and stimulate apprenticeship training through fundamental reforms to the Apprenticeship Levy. Once elected, the new PM has a responsibility to steady the economy. There’s no better way to do that than investing in construction and house building, which would boost economy.”

Two years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, Shelter is warning the government must listen to the third of families with children in social housing who feel less safe in their homes and take urgent action to prevent further tragedies.

The government is proposing a new building safety regulator, but the housing charity fears this will not go far enough to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all tenants is protected. That is why Shelter is standing with Grenfell United to call on the government to introduce a tough, new consumer regulator that protects tenants and proactively inspects social landlords.

New figures released by Shelter show that over half (56%) of social renters in England – five million people – have experienced a problem with their home in the last three years, including electrical hazards, gas leaks and faulty lifts. Among those who had a problem, one in 10 had to report it more than 10 times, suggesting tenants are still being failed by poor regulation.

Worryingly, the survey carried out by YouGov shows that over the same period more than 400,000 people encountered an issue with fire safety, which also affected their neighbours in over two-fifths of cases.

Shelter is concerned that the current regulator of social housing exists mainly to oversee finances and is not exclusively focussed on addressing the concerns of residents or tackling problem landlords head-on. In fact, almost three-quarters (72%) of social tenants in England have never heard of the current regulator.

The research also reveals a deep mistrust in the government since the Grenfell Tower fire, with half saying they have less trust in the government to keep social tenants safe in their homes. Another third says the government’s response has made no difference. This is why Shelter and Grenfell United believe that only a new consumer regulator can protect tenants and rebuild trust.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said “Social tenants living in Grenfell Tower raised serious safety concerns before the fire, but they were ignored. Two years on, social renters are still being failed by poor regulation and people are still fighting to be heard.

“In the wake of food scandals and financial scandals, the government responded with new regulators to protect consumers, and that’s exactly what we need for social housing. It cannot be right that scores of complaints and problems that affect whole blocks of flats, like faulty lifts or gas leaks, go unheard. We need a new regulator that’s firmly on the side of tenants.

“Tinkering with the current system just isn’t good enough when people have lost trust in it to keep them safe. That’s why we stand with Grenfell United in calling on the government to establish a new consumer regulator, which inspects social landlords and listens to groups of tenants when they say something isn’t right.”

Natasha Elcock, Chair of Grenfell United, the bereaved families and survivors’ group added “People were raising the alarm about fire safety in Grenfell before the fire, but they were ignored and belittled. The current housing regulator did nothing for us, it was entirely invisible. And two years later, despite all the promises, we still hear from people across the country who are not being listened to about their homes.

“If we want to stop another Grenfell fire, we need serious change – change that will genuinely make a difference to people living in social housing. We need a new system, not a rebrand of the current one. The government introduced a new regime for the banking industry after the financial crash, it should be doing the same for the housing sector. After all, what could be more important than people’s homes.”

New research from the National Housing Federation reveals that the Government must invest £12.8bn a year to finally end the housing crisis in England.

Over ten years, this investment would kick start a nationwide housebuilding programme of around 1.45 million social homes to rent and shared ownership properties to buy across the country. It would stimulate the economy and help more buyers to get on the housing ladder, all while ensuring that millions of people no longer get stuck in inappropriate homes or on the streets.

Now, a coalition of leading housing groups and charities is calling for the Government to make this significant investment in ending the housing crisis. This includes the National Housing Federation – which represents social landlords to six million people – Shelter, Crisis, CPRE, and the Chartered Institute of Housing.

By investing £12.8bn per year, in today’s prices, they argue that the Government would take spending levels back to those last seen under Churchill’s government in the early 1950s, when enough homes were being built to meet the country’s needs.

The coalition argues that a stimulus from the Government is the only way to solve the housing crisis, since the private market alone cannot build the quantities or types of homes the country needs.

Over the course of ten years, this Government investment would amount to £146bn, including inflation. This would cover about 44% of the total cost of this construction boom, unlocking the rest of the money which can then be raised from other sources.

The research also finds that investing in new homes would add £120bn to the economy each year, through the creation of local jobs in construction and other industries across the country. Effectively, every pound spent by the Government would generate at least £5, boosting the economy in a balanced and sustainable way.

It would also reduce the Government’s benefit bill over the course of the decade. Last year, the Government paid £22.3bn in housing benefit, a significant amount of which went into the pockets of private landlords to help cover rent for millions of low-income tenants. By moving many of these tenants into social housing, the Government would need to spend less on housing benefit over time, and so could save taxpayers tens of millions of pounds every year. This would also allow more people to build a solid foundation for their lives in social housing, aiding social mobility.

This new financial modelling is based on research, conducted by Heriot Watt University for the National Housing Federation and the homelessness charity Crisis, which showed that England needs to build 145,000 social homes every year for the next decade to both clear the current backlog of people who need a home and meet future demand.

Last year the Government spent £1.27bn on affordable housing, making housing one of the smallest government budgets, down 70% on 2010 levels. As a result, far fewer social rented homes are being built. In 2017/18, just 5,400 were built, compared to almost 36,000 in 2010/11 before funding was cut.

The chronic under-investment in housing has led to a 169% increase in rough sleeping, while the number of households in temporary accommodation is at a 10-year high. What’s more, 1.3 million children are currently living in poverty in expensive privately rented accommodation, while many young people are stuck at home with their parents, unable to build an independent life and start families of their own.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said “The housing crisis is an economic, social and human catastrophe. But it can be solved. And now, for the first time, we know exactly how much it will cost. By investing £12.8bn in affordable housing every year for the next decade, the Government can ensure millions of people have a stable and affordable place to live, at the same time as strengthening the economy across the country.

“By investing this money in affordable housing at the upcoming spending review, the Government can help families all across the country to flourish. They can help children get out of poverty, give young voters a foot up on the housing ladder and help out private renters who have to empty their bank account every month.

“As well as being the right thing to do, investing to end the housing crisis also carries huge economic benefits. It will advance the country’s productivity, boost its economic growth and lower the benefit bill over time.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, added “The steep decline in social housing is at the core of the housing emergency that now effects so many. Social homes are what this country wants and what it needs – they are the best solution to the problems we face and an opportunity to unite the country.

“Successive governments have failed to build social housing – while homelessness spirals and half of young people will never be able to buy. Now is the time to act for the millions of people trapped in housing poverty, and invest real resources where it matters most.

“Charting a course to build a new generation of social homes must be a key test for whoever walks through the doors of Number 10. The race to eradicate homelessness and provide millions with a stable home, is a race that every politician should be trying to win.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, concluded “Right now, thousands of people across England are finding themselves on the brink of homelessness or are already experiencing it, in large part because of our huge shortage of social housing.

“The good news is we know it doesn’t have to be this way – and we know why this situation must change urgently. Homelessness has devastating effects on people’s mental and physical wellbeing that no one should have to experience. This can’t go on.

“Ultimately Government must invest in the number of social homes we need. Not only will this save the country millions of pounds in the long term, it will help us end homelessness once and for all – something we can’t afford to put off any longer.”

The Government needs to do more to remove the barriers to small to medium-sized (SME) house builders if its housing targets are to be met, according to industry experts the Federation of Master Builders, in response to the House of Commons Public Accounts Select Committee report, ‘Planning and the broken housing market’.

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders, (FMB) said “SME house builders are continuing to face numerous barriers to increasing their capacity to build the homes that are needed. The recommendations in the Public Accounts Committee’s report highlight that the planning system is delaying progress. It is completely unacceptable that sites are being stalled because planning departments are not dealing with applications quickly enough. Our members aren’t seeing any improvements in service since fees were increased in January last year – a policy the FMB supported.”

“The report finds that, as of December last year, only 42 per cent of local authorities had an up-to-date local plan which is truly disappointing. By allocating small sites for housing delivery in their local plan, local authorities will be reducing the burden of uncertainty for the nation’s small house builders, and therefore speeding up housing supply through better diversifying the sector. Furthermore, we must not forget the highly positive impact that these local businesses have on their areas, offering employment and training opportunities to local people.”

“Access to finance for SME house builders has undoubtedly improved over the last few years but the loan to cost ratio from most lenders is simply unviable for SMEs – especially the micro firms, building fewer than five units a year. The FMB House Builders’ Survey 2018 found respondents estimated that they could increase their out by 38 per cent if they could achieve a loan to value/cost ratio of 80 per cent. Government must work with the finance sector to understand how lending to small house builders can be increased and improved. The time is now for the Government to heed the warnings of the Public Accounts Committee.”

Two thirds (66%) of people aged 60 or over have never considered downsizing their property, according to a recent survey by BLP Insurance, a specialist residential warranty and commercial latent defects insurer.

Those from the West Midlands (82%) and London (71%) were the most resistant to the idea of downsizing, while respondents from Yorkshire and Humberside (45%) and the North East (44%) were the most open to such a shift in their living arrangements.

The main drawbacks identified by those surveyed to downsizing were the upheaval or stress of moving (45%) and reduced living space (35%), while loss of familiarity (30%), such as reliable neighbours, and the sentimental impact of leaving the family home also ranked highly (28%).

Unsurprisingly, the top two motivating factors for downsizing among people aged 60 or over were related to property size; the burden of maintaining a larger house and garden (43%) and that their current property is too large for their needs (32%). Other factors included a reduction of day-to-day living expenses (29%). The death of a spouse or partner was surprisingly only a reason to move to a smaller property for less than a fifth of people (19%).

The survey also revealed perceptions of those aged 60 or more to moving to purposely built retirement villages. Nearly half of those surveyed were worried about the cost (46%), a further 44% expressed reservations about hidden fees and a quarter (25%) saw complex contracts as a major pain point.

Phil Harris, Director at BLP Insurance, said “It is of critical importance that we incentivise older people living in large, former family homes to downsize. We are in the midst of a much publicised housing crisis and must seek solutions to free up properties to meet people’s needs.

“Constructing an adequate stock of purposely-built homes for last time buyers is the first step. This will free up housing stock for first and second time buyers, provide extra financial reassurance to those downsizing, while injecting much needed impetus into the whole market. Moving home, especially in elder years, can be an arduous and emotional experience. It is clear that the housing industry needs to do more to make the process of downsizing as seamless, stress-free and transparent as possible.”