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.

Property developers in London could be made to cover expenses for soundproofing nearby flats and residences that are located near to pubs, nightclubs and music venues in London under new plans to help tackle the steep decline of nightlife in the city.

The Cavern in Liverpool (or its modern reincarnation, at least) is a Mecca to any Beatles fan worth their salt. The Haçienda was a Mancunian music venue in Manchester that was the focal point of what became known as the Madchester years of the 80s and 90s.

However, for the past few years venues such as these (and many more throughout the UK) are falling into serious decline. The reason for the decline is twofold; there aren’t as many people actually going to the venues for live music anymore and it is becoming more and more difficult for venue owners to obtain or keep costly licenses to host late-night music. Whilst the first issue is much harder and more complex to tackle, the latter is largely due to pressure being put on venues by local developers to curb the noise in the interest of new residents.

The Troubadour in London is one such venue experiencing difficulties due to local residents. The historic and legendary coffee house – which has hosted the likes of Bob Dylan in 1962, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Morrissey to name but a few – is currently for sale because of noise complaints. Kensington and Chelsea borough declared that the garden could no longer be used after 9pm. This has driven drink turnover down substantially, and the very future of the place now hangs in the balance.

Often the music venues in question have been part of the fabric in these areas long before residential districts are built up around them. The developers that move in then attempt to purge anything from the area that might be deemed undesirable and give people reason not to live in the buildings. Ergo, complaints are made, restrictions are issued and the venue is then effectively starved of the custom it has been entertaining and thriving off for many years.

However, under the new ‘agent of change’ principle, which is to be incorporated into London planning rules going forward, the responsibility of solving issues raised will now sit squarely on the developer’s doorstep, rather than the local council or the venue itself. This will mean that if complaints are made by residents regarding noise from a club, the developer will need to pay for soundproofing for that residence to help block out the noise!

Whilst this may seem extreme, drastic times call for desperate measures. The number of small venues in London alone has fallen by over 30% in the last 8 years. Nightclubs across Britain have actually halved in the past 10 years. The ideology behind the incentive is that the venues should culturally enrich a residential area rather than be a nuisance.

London’s Deputy Mayor for Culture, Munira Mirza said “What we don’t want is for the important regeneration and infrastructure work to damage the music [venue] industry.”

“Some boroughs are very supportive of live music and others aren’t. A lot of them listen to their residents, and don’t necessarily hear the voice of all the people who enjoy visiting [music venues].”

Head of the Night Time Industries Association Alan Miller is pleased with the proposal, saying “this agent of change thing is brilliant but I think it should go further. We should have a situation where if you move into a busy street full of bars and clubs, that’s the street you’re moving into.”

Thankyou for the music!

The largest manufacturer of specialist bricks, Michelmersh have announced that there has been a fall in commercial activity due to a reducing demand for bricks.

Chief Executive of Michelmersh, Martin Warner blames delays caused by planning for lower brick sales, saying that the general election in May and subsequent stamp duty increases for expensive homes has held up many projects and hampered production within the sector.

Martin said “Construction is down. We have seen it over the summer. If you talk to developers, one of the biggest problems is planning. The planning process is getting worse and worse rather than better.”

The last couple of years have seen several contributing factors that have had an impact on the brick industry as a whole; severe brick shortages, an increasing skills gap and a boom in house building resulted in stockpiling by many building firms in order to complete their projects.

Whilst the materials shortage and lack of skilled workers has played its part in slowing or stopping government housebuilding proposals, Martin says that he feels that planning is now a far greater issue.

The Conservatives have promised to loosen planning requirements in the near future in a bid to meet a housing target that aims to deliver 200,000 first time buyer houses for sale each year. Last month’s party conference saw PM David Cameron pledge to scrap rules which require developers to build affordable homes for rent.

Warner mentioned that although the cost of bricks has risen, they are still reasonably priced and the price hike should not prove to be an issue for building firms. He said “We price ahead of the game and bricks are still very cheap in the grand scheme of things. The average price of a brick is 32p which is less than the price of a Mars bar.”

Planning applications for solar farms have soared since the Government announced it was consulting on plans to end subsidy schemes for solar farms that produce 5 megawatts (MW) of power or below.

The recent data, compiled by construction data experts Barbour ABI for Building magazine, shows that a record 83 applications for solar farms worth a total of £431m were put in for planning in July, 73 of which were for proposed 5MW or below solar farms.

The research goes on to show that almost two thirds of the solar projects put in for planning in July submitted their applications on or after the 22nd of the month, the day DECC launched a consultation on closing the renewables obligation (RO) for solar farms at 5MW or below in capacity.

To make a comparison, 45 applications were submitted for the entire month of June, where as 51 were submitted in just ten days between the 22nd and the 31st of July, immediately after the subsidy cut announcement.

Commenting on the figures, Michael Dall, lead economist at Barbour ABI, said “It was not surprising to see a flood of applicants trying to get projects in the planning pipeline immediately after the announcement of the Government’s solar subsidy clawbacks.”

“The Government’s stance on solar is that falling costs have made it easier for the industry to survive without subsidies, particularly with the drop in prices for wholesale electricity prices. “

“However the risk here is that diminishing subsidies could falter a growing industry, potentially putting it under major jeopardy. Up to 27,000 jobs are at risk over the coming years in solar alone, not mentioning other renewable technologies, if more subsidy cuts are on the way.”

Sinkholes have replaced Jeremy Corbyn this week as the centre of media attention, following the opening up of a huge sinkhole in St Albans. The appearance of the massive 66ft diameter and 33ft deep hole in a suburban street resulted in several families in the surrounding area being evacuated from their homes during the night.

There are several reasons why a sinkhole may appear, both natural and manmade. Even the construction industry can be responsible for the ground disappearing from beneath our feet. Whilst there is little we can do to prevent naturally occurring sinkholes, many occurrences have actually been caused by construction-related activities such as drilling, mining, excavation, broken water or drain pipes, heavy structures built on soft soil and heavy traffic. Sinkholes can also form when the land surface is changed.

It is difficult to ascertain what exactly caused the sinkhole in St Albans; however the number of sinkholes appearing across Britain has been steadily increasing – probably even since the advent of irrigation. The drying out of the ground below through the process of abstraction or the saturation caused by a burst water pipe have been causing sinkholes for years.

Construction has undoubtedly played a part in the increase, particularly over the last 100 years. By its very nature, the built environment morphs and changes the environment around us; inadvertently redirecting water into weak points underground. These weak points get larger and more unstable until eventually pits form with almost no prior warning, swallowing cars, houses, and sometimes even people.

Sinkholes are dangerous, inconvenient and costly to repair. As you read this, work is currently underway to fix the hole in St. Albans that appeared last week. The hole will be filled with foamed concrete – a slow and expensive process that is expected to take several days. Residents of Fontmell Close, St Albans had to evacuate their homes following the sudden appearance of a gaping 10m deep hole in their street.

According to the Evening Standard, an emergency access road was created for residents to get their cars out via a playing field behind the site, and the reception centre at nearby Batchwood Sports Centre was used to yesterday and today by people wishing to shower or take shelter.

Needless to say, the cost and the upheaval created by the St Albans sinkhole is something we would all do best to avoid. Whilst natural sinkholes are inevitable and cannot be prevented, there are perhaps steps that could be taken by us as an industry to curb the manmade ones. Good practices such as regularly performing maintenance on underground water systems and plumbing, site surveys and creation of adequate drainage can help deter that sinking feeling. It’s like the old proverb says; “a stitch in time saves nine!”

2016 update: The amended version of Zaha Hadid’s plans have now also been scrapped in favour of a new model designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. The new design will still come with a hefty price tag of 153bn yen (£825m), however this is a drastic reduction in cost when compared to Hadid’s original design proposal, which would have cost in excess of 252bn yen – giving it the controversial accolade of being the most expensive stadium ever to be built.

Original story:

Starchitect Zaha Hadid cut an interview on BBC Radio 4 short following a disagreement with presenter Sarah Montague.

An interview intended to discuss her winning the 2016 RIBA Royal Gold Medal quickly descended into the British-Iraqi architect fiercely defending her Qatar World Cup stadium against allegations of worker deaths and denying the spiralling costs of her proposed Tokyo Olympic stadium.

Hadid has been announced as the 2016 recipient of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal, making her the first female architect to be awarded considered one of the most prestigious accolades within the profession. However, a little taken back at the questions that the BBC asked, Dame Zaha Hadid said that there had not been a “single problem in the stadium in Qatar” in response to Sarah Montague’s questions regarding the alleged 1,200 migrant worker deaths at the Al-Wakrah stadium for the 2022 football Qatar World Cup.

Zaha responded “It is absolutely untrue; there are no deaths on our site whatsoever. I sued someone in the press for it. You should check your facts.”

Last week heard reports that Zaha had made the decision not to proceed with her bid to construct the Olympic stadium in Tokyo after the scrapping of her original design, which was met with public and professional protest over the £2bn construction costs.

“I didn’t pull out of the Japanese project,” Hadid corrected, “It’s a very serious story. It’s a scandal. We won this competition three years ago, it was an international competition entered by many Japanese architects and we won it.”

The interview ended abruptly when Zaha concluded “Don’t ask me a question if you don’t want me to answer. Let’s stop this conversation right now.”

The Qatari government say that the very serious allegations of 1,200 worker deaths since the country were announced as hosts of the next world cup are categorically untrue. Others argue that the deaths are directly linked to the current construction boom as a result of the pending World Cup, and therefore deaths on projects such as infrastructure and hotels should be included when monitoring world cup fatalities. Either way, Zaha confirmed there have been no deaths on her site.

Listen to the short but heated interview below:

Chancellor George Osborne announced today that there are “unprecedented opportunities” for China to play their part in funding the development of a Northern Powerhouse.

The Chancellor revealed a selection of opportunities for investments worth up to £24bn at an event being held at the city of Chengdu in China. Coined the “Northern Pitchbook,” Osborne presented a series of regeneration and infrastructure investment projects to senior investors.

Some of the projects included in the Northern Pitchbook are:

  • Opening up the bidding process to build HS2 to Chinese firms and investors on Thursday, offering contracts worth £11.8bn to build the high-speed rail line.
  • Manchester Place regeneration, which consists of creating three new areas of more than 10,000 homes with a combined value of over £3bn.
  • Sheffield Retail Quarter will look to provide new homes within the city centre and also centrally located offices.
  • South Bank regeneration, which will cover over 130 hectares within Leeds city centre.

The Chancellor said “As we continue to work more closely with China, we have an unprecedented opportunity to secure significant investment into some of our most ambitious projects across our Northern Powerhouse.

“From Liverpool to Newcastle, we are opening up our doors to investment that will not only help us to grow and create jobs, but will allow us to build infrastructure to rival any region in the world.

“The North of England is already a magnet for foreign investment into the country and we’ve seen with announcements from Nissan and Hitachi into the North East recently highlighting how perfectly poised our Northern Powerhouse is to attract the eye of global companies.”

Encouraging the Chinese and British firms to work together in joint tender bids for HS2 phase one is a stark contrast to the wishes of opposing Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has vowed to renationalise the railways if he becomes Prime Minister.

Mr Corbyn said last week “We know there is overwhelming support from the British people for a People’s Railway, better and more efficient services, proper integration and fairer fares.”

“On this issue, it won’t work to have a nearly but not quite position. Labour will commit to a clear plan for a fully integrated railway in public ownership”

The total value for commercial & retail construction contracts in August were worth more than £1.5 billion, the highest in over four years, based on a three month rolling average.

According to the latest Economic & Construction Market Review from Barbour ABI, it was a busy August for the commercial & retail sector but in particular office construction, which dominated the sector for the month with 84 per cent of the total value of contracts awarded.

To put the growth of commercial & retail contract values into perspective, the last three months have each had more than double the value when compared to that in May. August also experienced an increase of more than 70 per cent when compared to the same month last year.

London led all regions with over 60 per cent of the total amount of commercial & retail contract values in August, including eight of the top ten biggest projects. Contracts for major office developments were finalised including the £150m Park Place development in Canary Wharf and the £100m Marble Arch project in Westminster.

Commenting on the figures, Michael Dall, lead economist at Barbour ABI, said “After an unstable start to the year, commercial & retail construction has picked up dramatically to the point where August has been the strongest month for more than four years.”

“It’s not surprising to see London dominating the sector once again. As a global city, we’re seeing more and more demand for office space in the capital, hence the massive projects awarded contracts this month. Even with the recent spike in office construction work being put on hold, this isn’t putting off investors rolling the dice with new projects looking towards the future and the potential gains to be made from London property.”

“Over the last three months and in particular August, demonstrates that there is a major demand for office space and willingness from investors to spend and commit to new projects. The long term growth for this sector is looking positive, and when commercial & retail is strong it can often be a sign that the economy as a whole is performing well.”

Following a recent spate of government cuts to renewable incentives and technologies, buildingspecifier hear from an industry expert to understand the impact this has been having on the UK renewables sector as a whole.

It appears that the latter half of 2015 has already seen the death of many earnest eco-friendly practices – first it began with the scrapping of the green deal shortly after an election victory, with no apparent replacement scheme to follow. The Green Deal was far from perfect – but following the subsequent assaults on environmental, ecological and energy matters that followed, such as the U-turn on Zero Carbon Homes building standards, the ending of subsidies for onshore wind farms and a failed attempt to begin fracking in Lancashire despite widespread public opposition, people are beginning to question the seriousness of this government’s commitment to the environment that we all have to live in and the validity of a speech once made by David Cameron where he expressed that he wanted to be “the greenest government ever.”

Most recently, the Department for Energy and Climate Change revealed their intentions to cut subsidies for solar energy by almost 90% from January in a consultation paper that was published earlier this month. This follows George Osborne underlining his determination to get the government’s nuclear energy programme moving by providing a £2bn government guarantee for the delayed Hinkley Point power plant project. So how is this affecting the section of the UK construction industry who specialise in green technology and renewable energy?

Silvio Spiess, founder and CEO of Innasol, the UK’s leading biomass business, comments on the recent green cuts and the uncertainty surrounding the industry.

“Heating constitutes 78% of the average consumer’s energy consumption. It is therefore a no-brainer that heating should be the government’s principal focus over the next few years.”

“The consistent degression of biomass technologies under the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme clearly demonstrates that there is significant appetite in the UK for renewable heating. The tariff for domestic biomass has dropped by 47% over the last nine months, the tariff for small commercial biomass (up to 200kW) has dropped by 53% over the last 15 months – entirely due to consumer popularity. UK home and business owners are calling for affordable, clean energy.”

“The current uncertainty which surrounds renewable heating and other green technologies is only damaging the industry: consumers are less willing to invest in renewable heating technologies and green businesses themselves are less prepared to invest in their staff and infrastructure. By cutting green subsidies, the government is jeopardising the UK’s progression towards cleaner, greener, more affordable energy.”

“Innasol calls on the government to recognise this demand, and to commit to investing in renewable heating past Q1 2016. By reallocating budget to further invest in subsidies (like the Renewable Heat Incentive) to promote renewable heating, the government will propel the UK towards carbon emissions reductions and closer to the EU 2020 targets. Now is the time to act.”

The £43bn High Speed 2 project is expected to create employment opportunities to the tune of 25,000 jobs within construction, according to Transport Minister Robert Goodwill.
The minister predicted that 60% of the construction work involved in delivering a high-speed rail link between London and the North were expected to be awarded to small and mid-sized businesses.

Robert Goodwill said “We need everything from architects to aggregates, steel and surveyors, to engineers and environmental consultants.”

“We estimate that HS2 will create 25,000 jobs during construction and 3,000 jobs when in operation. Not just on site, but right across the UK.”

“The jobs that HS2 will create are an incredible opportunity for the UK, but also a major challenge. Because while we need 25,000 skilled professionals for HS2, our investment in the existing rail and road networks is creating another 20,000 jobs.”

“And that’s at the same time as we need skilled people for all our other great infrastructure projects such as flood defences, nuclear power stations and perhaps even Crossrail 2.”
“We need many more engineers, surveyors, construction workers, planners, drainage experts and even arboriculturists. So we are getting ready now. We will write into the statute book our commitment to create 3M apprenticeships by 2020, many of which will serve infrastructure.”

Much-needed homes could be built offsite and delivered ready to be assembled in order to meet increasing demand, if there is more understanding and clarity that the approach is competitive with more traditional methods of construction.

This conclusion is drawn from new research undertaken for the Scottish Government following its challenge to industry to “transform” the way new homes are built as a means to further increase sustainability, boost the rate of supply and create export opportunities to support the drive towards a low carbon economy.

Trade body Homes for Scotland engaged its members, who together deliver 95% of new homes built for sale, in order to assess industry awareness, appetite and readiness surrounding alternative construction methods such as offsite manufactured systems.

With improved quality, sustainability and speed of construction identified as drivers for an increase in the use of offsite construction, the report found no resistance to this in principle from home builders. However, the strong perception that offsite construction is more expensive was found to be the biggest barrier. Concerns were also expressed in relation to control over programming and the capacity of the supply chain to sharply increase output.

The report proposes 11 recommendations that could help address these issues, including how to overcome the knowledge and resource gaps that exists in relation to costing and R&D.

Homes for Scotland Chief Executive Philip Hogg (right) said “With the industry’s capacity to increase production in the wake of the economic downturn currently being hampered by shortages in both skills and traditional building materials, this report is very timely and provides a useful baseline from which to explore how the increased use of offsite construction could help overcome these challenges.”

“However, any such ‘evolution’ must be demand-led and supported by a proven business case that also provides the flexibility the private sector require in delivering products to their customers.”

Minister for Housing and Welfare Margaret Burgess added “We are committed to encouraging companies to utilise offsite modern methods of construction due to the number of potential benefits including economic and export opportunities. That is why we commissioned Homes for Scotland to carry out this research and engage with industry to determine their level of interest in adopting these methods.”

“We will work with the housing industry in Scotland to encourage them to look at these opportunities. This report from Homes for Scotland showing private house builders’ perceptions represents an important step in mainstreaming these techniques.”

Click here to access the “Research into Mainstreaming Offsite Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) in House Building” report.