A shocking investigation undertaken by BBC Watchdog Live recently revealed that a number of new build homes built by developers Persimmon and Bellway Homes are not adequately fire safe. Joe Bradbury of buildingspecifier.com investigates:


The Grenfell tragedy


Fire safety has become the hot topic of debate over the last few years, and rightfully so. The horrific fire that broke out in 24-storey Grenfell Tower in 2017 has brought it to the forefront of our attention, having caused 72 deaths and injured a further 70 others. It is considered the deadliest structural fire in the United Kingdom since the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster and the worst UK residential fire since the Second World War. Negligence is now being sniffed out throughout the construction industry and those responsible are being held to account.


The fire was ignited by a malfunctioning fridge-freezer located on the fourth floor. Once the fire had taken hold it spread rapidly up the building’s exterior to all the residential floors. For many, the image of the tower engulfed in flame will be painfully etched in memory for many years to come.


Notre Dame


Fire struck again in world media on the 15th April this year, with newspapers, TV screens, phones and tablets sharing apocalyptic, images of Notre Dame aflame in Paris.


Crucial renovation and restoration works were underway when an electrical short circuit happened, resulting in the roof of Notre-Dame catching fire and burning for approximately 15 hours, before being extinguished; during which time the cathedral received immense damage.


Thankfully, no one was killed. The injuries sustained were largely cultural, with Notre Dame being arguably one of man’s finest architectural achievements.


Fire in figures


There were 558,963 incidents attended by the UK Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) last year. Of these incidents, around 161,770 were fires. These fires resulted in 261 fatalities and 7,081 non-fatal casualties. To put that into context – for every million people in England, there were 4.7 fire-related fatalities.


Unfortunately, fires happen… and their impact can be devastating. With this in mind, it comes as a great shock to hear that many new-builds constructed by two of the largest housebuilding firms were sold last year with missing or incorrectly installed fire barriers, which functions to prohibit the spread of fire throughout a property.


Is your new build safe?


In April 2018 a fire was started by a cigarette dropped at ground level in a Persimmon-built home in Exeter. It spread up to the roof of the house and then across to other properties nearby.


This fire sparked an investigation which found missing fire barriers at 37% of homes on the Greenacres estate, where the fire had taken place. This initiated wider investigation of thousands of homes throughout the South West, where over 650 homes were found to have missing or incorrectly installed fire barriers. The investigation continues and some of those affected are yet to be rectified; many houses are still awaiting inspection.


Since the issues in the South West became known last year, Persimmon have written to 3200 home owners in the region and created a dedicated team to carry out inspections in a prompt manner.


Thus far, 2700 homes have been inspected, and remedial work has been carried out at 679 properties. The company said sample checks were also being conducted nationwide. A spokesperson for Persimmon said “this should not have happened and we would like to apologise to all affected homeowners and assure them that we are doing everything we can to rectify the issue swiftly.”


The BBC investigation also uncovered potentially dangerous fire safety issues in developments in Kent and West Lothian built by Bellway Homes.


BBC Watchdog Live sent their own expert surveyor to a new build Bellway Homes development in West Lothian, to examine the fire protection at four houses, after concerns were raised by one resident whose house had previously been found to have inadequate fire barriers.


According to an article on the BBC website, surveyor and expert witness Greig Adams, who carried out the testing, found poorly fitted fire barriers at all four properties, with voids and gaps around them that would prevent them stopping fire from spreading. He said “What we’ve unfortunately found is that there are fire breach issues in every house we’ve looked at. It’s a legal requirement that the cavity barriers are to be there. It’s not optional – and with good reason: it saves lives.”


Bellway Homes have stated that they are “committed to improvement”.


In summary


Law dictates that new build homes must implement adequate fire protection measures which meet current Building Regulations to delay the spread of fire for as long as possible to maximise chances of escape for occupants.


The unsung heroes of a project, fire barriers are an integral part of a fire protection strategy and in many new builds (particularly timber-framed buildings) the barriers form a seal between different areas of a house. Without them, experts suggest that fire and smoke can spread five to ten times faster.


It is therefore of the utmost importance that housebuilders uphold their responsibility, ensuring that all new buildings are fully compliant with current Building Regulations. It’s a matter of life and death.


Driven by a growing population and intensifying urbanisation, the construction of high-rise buildings has increased considerably in recent years – more high-rise buildings are now being constructed than at any other time. Joe Bradbury of buildingspecifier.com investigates:


Across the UK as a whole, there are currently over 270 existing high-rise buildings and structures, of which around 70% are in London. The UK has just 17 high-rise buildings over 150m (492ft.) in height and just one building – The Shard in London – over 300m.

Definitions of high-rise buildings vary, but an interesting report by AMA Research looks at UK regional and London developments of 15-20 storeys and above. Unlike other international cities, London is considered ‘low-rise’ for a global city and financial capital of the world; with the pace of high-rise development way behind other global cities. However, in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of high-rise buildings proposed and approved for construction in the UK. The UK development pipeline currently stands at around 500 buildings, of which over 85% are planned in London, while the rest are clustered in key cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford.

In terms of end-use sector, around 70% of high-rise buildings currently under construction or under consideration across the UK are primarily residential, but with an element of mixed-use, e.g. retail, community or leisure.

In London, the high-rise market is being driven by the buoyant private housing sector, especially at the top-end of the market, and resurgence in demand for commercial property. The concept of high rise living has changed and the majority of high-rise residential tower blocks in UK cities are now being developed as luxury accommodation, targeting a very different demographic and being developed with a mixed-use element incorporating leisure facilities, concierge services, restaurants and retail.

Key factors affecting the development of high-rise buildings include cost, space efficiency, wind & seismic considerations, structural safety, risk challenges both on site and in completed buildings, speed of elevators, new building materials to potentially replace steel and concrete and damping systems. In addition, significant technical and logistical factors include pumping and placing concrete at extreme heights, and craning and lifting items to extreme heights.

Speaking with buildingspecifier.com, Hayley Thornley, Research Manager at AMA Research said

“Going forward, the high-rise construction market is set to continue to grow, with the ever-increasing demand for housing. However, there are concerns about too many projects aimed at the luxury end of the market, which is not matched with housing demand. In addition, the uncertainties surrounding the EU referendum may influence some high-rise schemes, with many projects in the pipeline forecast to exceed stated completion dates.”

The proportion of mixed-use schemes in the high-rise buildings pipeline is set to grow, with around 18% of developments either under construction or proposed with a mixed-use function. In the office market, rising take-up, low availability of grade-A space and increasing rents in cities such as Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Edinburgh, is helping to boost output in the commercial office sector and has led to more speculative building.

Sustained growth in the private rented sector (PRS) is also driving the development of high-rise housing, with increasing financial backing from both domestic and foreign institutional investors. Student accommodation also forms a small, but significant proportion of high-rise building development with a number of schemes currently in planning.



Given the fact that between now and 2026 the UK needs to build an additional 110,000 homes per annum on top of those currently projected in order to keep pace with our growing and ageing population, high rise could also play a pivotal role in ending the housing crisis going forward. Housebuilding is a particularly labour intensive industry and although new technologies and increased off-site production are being implemented to reduce costs and increase productivity, the supply of labour is still one of the binding constrictions on output.

Existing evidence suggests that the relationship between labour and number of houses that can be built is close to being linear. Therefore, in order to increase the number of homes being built the labour force employed in housebuilding needs to increase by the same share.

Current annual construction levels are typically less than half of the estimated 250,000 new homes this country needs built every year through to at least the 2030s. With only 63% of projects delivered on time and only 49% delivered to budget, it’s clear to see that traditional building practices, whilst still integral, are falling short of meeting major challenges on their own.

There is an urgent need for a mass volume of houses to be constructed in a limited time scale and whether the state takes on housebuilding, or if it is left to private house builders, the benefits of offsite construction could be crucial to meeting targets that have repeatedly been missed. Offsite construction provides housebuilders with programme certainty and quality though simplification of site operations and reduced weather dependencies due to the controlled factory-based assembly process. Houses delivered through offsite construction offer enhanced specification standards and build quality which reduces occupancy costs related to energy use, defects and repairs. There is significant evidence that suggests that the use of offsite construction has been successful when applied to meet the needs of significant housing developments at scale with consequential opportunities for standardisation of design details – particularly to meet the need of government led programmes.

To deliver the homes of tomorrow we need to attract new talent and diversify the way we build. What role do you think high rise will play in this? Let us know in the comments below!

Housebuilding needs to increase in the UK. It is predicted that a total of 340,000 homes need to be delivered each year in order to tackle spiralling house prices and the critical shortage of affordable homes. This target has constantly been missed – with figures showing that only 184,000 homes were completed in England in 2016/17. This is more than in recent years, but still below the 2007/08 pre-recession peak of 200,000.

A report by Joe Bradbury, Editor


Recent figures published by the National Housing Federation (who represents housing associations in England, social landlords to 5 million people) and Crisis (the national charity for homeless people) reveals the true scale of the housing crisis in England.

The groundbreaking research, conducted by Heriot-Watt University, to be published in full this summer, shows that England’s total housing need backlog has reached four million homes. A new housing settlement is needed to address this shortage, providing a home for everyone who currently needs one, including homeless people, private tenants spending huge amounts on rent, children unable to leave the family home, and even couples delaying having children because they are stuck in unsuitable housing.

To both meet this backlog and provide for future demand, the country needs to build 340,000 homes per year until 2031. This is significantly higher than current estimates (including the Government’s target of 300,000 homes annually), which have never before taken into account the true scale of housing need created by both homelessness and high house prices.

However, simply building a total of 340,000 homes each year will not meet this need – they will need to be the right type of homes. 145,000 of these new homes must be affordable homes, compared to previous estimates of the annual affordable housing need of around 78,000. This means that around two-fifths of all new homes built every year must be affordable homes – in 2016/17, only around 23% of the total built were affordable homes.

How do we fix this?

A substantial part of the problem is that housebuilders in possession of large sites often only release a small amount of homes at a time, as building at a slower pace allows them to maximise the value of their assets. As a result local authorities are now looking at reclaiming and managing the construction of new homes. Councils have largely been removed from housebuilding since the conservative government came into power in 1979, where private construction rose, but not by enough to compensate for the fall in public sector building.

So what have local authorities been doing all this time? Council advisers argue that they been exploring ways of getting back into housebuilding after decades of being removed. Both Labour and Liberal Democrats have historically argued in support of the state to once again commission and build new homes. Nevertheless, conservatives insist on austerity and warn that they need to be cautious about the state getting involved in housebuilding – stating that the country must live within its means.

It is clear that if the state reclaims house building then cost effective methods of building will have to be utilised. Offsite construction provides the solution. Through the use of offsite construction, the government will be able to deliver houses at a lower cost and a rapid pace. Offsite construction has been around for decades; however, it is only now that its benefits are truly being recognised. It has been stated that a main factor holding up housebuilding in the short term, is a lack of materials. The surge in demand in late 2013 and early 2014 led to a decrease in availability of traditional materials such as bricks. This paved the way for prefabricated materials like timber and steel to be used in housebuilding.

There is an urgent need for a mass volume of houses to be constructed in a limited time scale and whether the state takes on housebuilding, or if it is left to private house builders, the benefits of offsite construction could be crucial to meeting targets that have repeatedly been missed. Offsite construction provides housebuilders with programme certainty and quality though simplification of site operations and reduced weather dependencies due to the controlled factory-based assembly process. Houses delivered through offsite construction offer enhanced specification standards and build quality which reduces occupancy costs related to energy use, defects and repairs. There is significant evidence that suggests that the use of offsite construction has been successful when applied to meet the needs of significant housing developments at scale with consequential opportunities for standardisation of design details – particularly to meet the need of government led programmes.

Reducing waste

According to ‘The Waste and Resources Action Programme’, offsite construction can generate up to 90% less waste than traditional onsite building methods. This is largely because a factory is a much more controlled environment than a traditional building site – with far fewer variables.

Offsite construction is far less energy intensive than traditional housebuilding methods. The carbon footprint left by the many construction vehicles and machinery on the site of a traditional construction project alone is considerably larger than that of modular construction. Put simply, fewer vehicles involved and less time spent on site results in less greenhouse gases being released into our environment.

In summary

The positive effects of offsite construction on the housebuilding industry cannot be overstated, and with the UK Environment Agency and other government bodies putting increasing pressure on construction companies to reduce pollution and conform to environmental regulations, it is clear to see that change is imminent – embrace the future, build homes offsite.

by Joe Bradbury, Editor


The built environment is filled with ageing commercial buildings. They serve as a platform for most of the country’s major industries and provide the general public with areas in which to work, shop, socialise and relax. Needless to say, commercial buildings play a crucial role in 21st century Britain. However, despite investment in this booming sector being ever on the rise, commercial buildings are amongst some of the poorest performing buildings in terms of energy efficiency. Buildingspecifier’s Joe Bradbury discusses the importance of retrofitting these buildings to ensure minimum impact and maximum return.


According to the Committee on Climate Change, the commercial sector is accountable for approximately 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions from buildings in the UK. The world’s population is currently consuming the equivalent of 1.6 planets resources a year. The Global Footprint Network estimates that if we continue to consume at current rates we’ll blow the global carbon budget and lock in more than 2C of global warming in approximately 17 years.


As a result of this, the EU is currently reviewing its EU 2030 energy efficiency targets, with buildings in general highlighted as having great potential to reduce global emissions if efforts are made to make them more energy efficient.


Making ageing buildings fit for the future


There are so many things that commercial building owners and specifiers can do to become a little more eco-friendly, but in broad terms there is a 3-step process that should be followed in order to do so:


  1. significant investment in skills and capacity to enhance building management and deliver energy efficient refurbishment
  2. installation of low carbon generation capacity
  3. the design, manufacturing and fabrication of energy efficiency products and services


Heating and lighting are two areas in particular where changes need to be made. Let’s look at those two areas in a little more detail:


Let’s talk light…


A cityscape at night is aesthetically a beautiful thing to behold; anybody who has seen the glowing lights of Vegas in the vast blackness of desert night, or London skyline reflecting on the surface of the Thames, will concur. Unfortunately, it is also an incredibly inefficient and irresponsible use of energy and a waste of precious resources. Overnight lighting is just one of many bad habits held by the commercial sector today. It is also one of the easiest to fix.


In 2013, France made it a legal requirement for shops and offices throughout the country to turn off their lights overnight in a bid to fight light pollution. This is expected to save 250,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum – roughly enough energy to power 750,000 French households for a year, according to the French Environment Ministry. So, if you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your building, put that light out!


Another easy but effective change that can be implemented immediately is to upgrade to LED lighting. It requires very little upfront investment, and delivers immediate returns.


Typically the energy savings made from switching from a conventional source to LED is 50-60%. They also require changing much less frequently, meaning that savings will also be made in terms of maintenance. This benefit is two-fold, affording the maintenance team the time to be more proactive in energy initiatives rather than changing lamps.


A recent California Energy Commission study also estimates that savings will be two times higher by the year 2020 by switching to LED than they are at present, when the technology becomes even more efficient.

Hot and cold


The costs of heating and cooling a building are always on the rise. Often, addressing energy efficiency without a multi-system approach can be futile, with no tangible savings being made. Again, as with lighting, it is largely a behavioural change that will most benefit the commercial building sector in meeting efficiency targets going forward. For instance, a mere broadening of the range of temperatures inside your building, scheduling heating and lighting to vary according to peak occupancy times, can make drastic reductions to carbon footprint and energy bills.


Buildings are accountable for over 30% of final energy consumption in the world. 15% of this energy is used in the heating and cooling of interior spaces. Therefore it is imperative that you look at your heating and cooling systems if you want to make improvements.


Currently, the heating of buildings is largely based on fossil fuel burning technologies and cooling is dominated by incredibly carbon-intensive electrical systems. Studies suggest that by implementing low or zero-carbon heating and cooling methods in buildings – such as solar thermal, heat pumps, combined heat and power (CHP), and thermal energy storage – we have the potential to lower CO2 emissions by approximately 2 gigatonnes and save 710 million tonnes oil equivalent of energy over the next 34 years.


For many existing buildings, a change in the heating a cooling system and the building envelope accordingly can prove to be high in initial outlay and very disruptive. Some retrofits need a complete overhaul of their existing heating and cooling systems, insulation, windows etc. Sadly, the higher initial costs involved and the subsequent longer wait for financial return results in many buildings choosing to plod on using existing inefficient heating systems. This often hampers other energy efficiency efforts that have been made, making the strive for energy efficiency an earnest but ineffective endeavour.


Although it can be expensive, do not overlook the multitude of sustainable heating and cooling options on the market today. It is only through a multifaceted approach that the commercial building sector can truly make a tangible impact on its carbon footprint.


To summarise

An efficient building is a productive building. By being considerate in how we generate and use energy, we can help reverse manmade climate change whilst simultaneously receiving a series of lucrative fringe benefits as an industry. We can also set an example for future generations to follow – ensuring that professionals within the built environment always have a healthy, vibrant environment in which to build for many years to come.

When people think of offsite construction they often think of new-build. However, offsite technology can also be utilised within the refurbishment of an existing building, bringing with it all of the benefits (such as faster delivery times and less on-site disruption) that has become synonymous with the practice. Joe Bradbury of Building Specifier investigates.


The industry today


The UK construction industry is worth nearly £100 billion to the UK economy each year. But tighter restrictions, increasing build costs and a lack of skilled labour are threatening the sector’s future growth.


But where there are challenges, opportunities can also be found, and the sector has seen several innovative solutions come to the fore in recent years. This is particularly true when it comes to prefabrication and offsite construction products that can be retrofitted into existing buildings in dire need of updating.


Offsite solutions are being deployed across a wide range of new and refurbishment projects, from hotels and leisure to education and research facilities. And with the backing of the Government, their usage is only set to increase further.


But why are offsite solutions becoming more popular, and why is the Government keen to back them? In short, they deliver quality at scale, and help projects of all sizes complete on time and to budget. Currently the demand being placed on the construction industry continues to rise, but the number of projects completing on time and to budget continues to fall. This is not just due to tighter regulations and labour shortages, but other factors like the weather and delays in the supply of materials.


Factor in housing shortages, an aging population, an increase in speciality housing needs, a lack of suitable student accommodation and an uptick in the number of build to let homes, and it’s clear to see why prefabricated solutions are being more widely used.



Why offsite?


Offsite solutions are becoming more popular as they can be designed, manufactured and pre-assembled offsite, and then simply dropped into place for ease and speed in new build projects but still provide the high quality expected. Specialist manufacturers design and build tailored products, to perfectly meet client specifications and these are simply delivered whole ready for installation and fitments or re-assembled onsite quickly and easily for the purposes of refurbishment. Installation does not require skilled labour, significantly reducing time and costs.


Take bathrooms and showers as an example; these can be the most complex part of a refurbishment project due to the need for wet trades and a range of skilled labour, from designers to plumbers, electricians and tilers. Examples such as pre-fab pod solutions however, can be completely bespoke and designed to fit into any space – whether a Grade II listed manor house, an office block, a refurbishment or a new-build.


Sectional pods are ideal for limited spaces, and bespoke designs can be completed from concept to delivery much quicker than manual builds, where a whole host of factors can slow down the build, from the late delivery of materials to several contractors having to work together, in confined spaces and reliant on other trades’ staged completions.


Greater control


In terms of the construction process, modular building and offsite construction techniques provide specifiers with programme certainty and quality though simplification of site operations, whilst also reducing weather dependencies due to the controlled factory-based assembly process. The ancillary benefit of this is that buildings retrofitted with offsite technologies offer enhanced specification standards and build-quality which reduces occupancy costs related to energy use, defects and repairs.


Constructed offsite, under controlled plant conditions, using the same materials and designing to the same codes and standards as conventionally built facilities, projects can be completed in about half the time. The finished modules are transported and put together on site.


As a nation we need affordable, well designed and energy efficient buildings to meet a bustling demand and tackle issues such as fuel poverty and climate change. Sustainable building methods and renewable energy are pivotal in delivering a sustainable solution and can be retrofitted into any building, if we put our minds to it.


It makes environmental sense


Specifiers are now rightly expected to make buildings sustainable and energy efficient as part of the greater effort to reduce CO2 emissions, energy consumption and waste as a nation. As such, environmental considerations will naturally transform how our buildings are constructed and subsequently refurbished, what materials are used and which methods are employed.


Offsite construction is far less energy intensive than traditional construction methods. The carbon footprint left by the many construction vehicles and machinery on the site of a traditional construction project alone is considerably larger than that of modular construction. Put simply, fewer vehicles involved and less time spent on site results in less greenhouse gases being released into our environment.


The transition to a low-carbon economy presents our industry with great opportunities for growth. Environmental considerations will transform how our buildings are constructed, what materials are used and the methods employed. We are now on the cusp of the predicted ‘sea-change’ and that the time is right for the construction industry to embrace innovative offsite techniques to develop better buildings at a rapid rate to enhance lives, minimise the environmental impact and reduce energy costs for occupants for many years to come.


Government backed


The Government have been very vocal about offsite in recent years, championing the benefits it offers. They have repeatedly stated that they will support ‘building long term collaborations’ with the industry, ‘exploiting digital technologies such as the adoption of offsite construction techniques’.


In addition, they would ‘adopt a presumption in favour of offsite construction by 2019 across suitable capital programmes’. This stands as further evidence of the rising popularity of offsite modular construction.


As more and more projects are completed, construction management will recognise that modular design can be commercially viable alternative to traditional builds.


Sleek designs and high specifications mean they can be used from high-end projects such as hotels, right down to student accommodation, and still deliver a solid ROI.


In fact, the high specification, unrivalled quality, offsite checks and lower maintenance can extend the longevity of the bathroom environment way beyond those offered by traditional refurbishment practices which often require on-going maintenance.


In summary


The construction industry as a whole (including the refurbishment and retrofit sector) has a job on its hands. Take housing as just one example; if the construction industry stands any chance of delivering 1 million new homes by 2020 and do something real about the 11,000+ homes across the UK that have been empty for 10 years or more, it can only do so by evolving to keep up with a changing world. Despite all of the noise, offsite construction accounts for less than 10% of total construction output at present. This is frustrating, but it also means there is still tremendous scope for further expansion across the various sectors that comprise construction. Let’s do our part too and embrace offsite.


Joe Bradbury, Editor

Due to the shortage of affordable homes, the government has stated that we need to build around 250,000 additional houses each year to meet increasing demand. However, with the latest data suggesting that there are over 200,000 homes which have been empty for over six months in Britain, do we really need such a bold and ambitious target? Or could we instead integrate the number of new homes needed into a plan that includes refurbishment of empty properties to make housing the population an achievable goal? Joe Bradbury of Building Specifier discusses:


A property becomes ‘long term’ empty when it’s been unoccupied for 6 months or more. In London alone, for example, there approximately 20,000 homes sitting idle for over six months in – that is almost £12.4 billion worth of empty property, in a city facing an extreme housing shortage.

Shocking research by the Liberal Democrats recently found that more than 11,000 homes across the UK have been empty for 10 years or more. The figures, from 276 local councils, show there are more than 216,000 homes across Britain that have been empty for six months or more.

Why retrofit?

‘Retrofitting’ refers to the refurbishment of domestic and non-domestic buildings to reduce energy use and associated greenhouse gas emissions. It refers to projects that make major changes across the entire building to significantly reduce energy usage that require design by specialists.

Work on empty homes can achieve positive outcomes with regards to:


  • Housing Supply
  • Community Regeneration/Town Centre Renewal
  • Sustaining Rural Communities
  • Restoring Confidence in local property markets
  • Discouraging Anti-Social Behaviour (due to fire/vandalism/fly tipping of empty properties)
  • Climate Change and Sustainability


The Empty Homes Agency in England has estimated that the cost of refurbishing an empty home is between £6,000 – £25,000. In comparison, the average cost of a new build home in the UK is in excess of £100,000. And of course when you are bringing an empty home back into use the infrastructure and local services will already be in place.

The good, the bad and the ugly


As afore mentioned there are roughly 20,000 homes that have been sitting idle in the capital for over six months – that is almost £12.4 billion worth of empty property. This is simply not acceptable in a city facing an extreme housing shortage. Thankfully, this figure does appear to be reducing year on year, so it’s clear that we are going in the right direction. Manchester has seen the number of empty homes plummet by more than 84%, from 10,059 long-term vacant dwellings in 2005 to 1,599 ten years later.

However, at the other end of the spectrum, Bradford, which has the worst problem outside London, has seen a rise of 7% in the past decade (total of 4,154 empty homes) with an estimated value of more than £400 million worth of property sitting empty.

West Yorkshire, which includes Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield, has the highest number (12,292) of long-term empty properties of all the English metropolitan districts – an estimated £1.4 billion worth of potential homes that could be occupied.

Ending the housing shortage


Collins Dictionary defines a housing shortage as “a deficiency or lack in the number of houses needed to accommodate the population of an area.” It’s easy to see then why we feel like there is a housing shortage; in 2014, there were 1.9m families on Council Housing waiting lists in England and Scotland alone. While there is clearly a need to build new homes, ignoring the potential in the empty or tired properties within our stock is a costly and damaging mistake. Building new homes occupies more land and is so expensive in terms of material costs.

So, when attempting to meet the target of delivering 250,000 new homes by 2020 as outlined by the government, a holistic solution is needed – one that also integrates the refurbishment and redistribution of empty properties into the market in order to shorten waiting lists, decrease pressure on local authorities and ultimately give the people of Britain a place they can call home.

Alleviating fuel poverty


UK homes are some of the most expensive to heat in Europe because of poor maintenance and insulation. The UK has the highest levels of fuel poverty of a dozen comparable EU nations, as well as one of the worst proportions of homes in a poor state of repair.

ONS figures show that over the winter of 2016-17 there were 31,800 excess winter deaths among the over 65s from cold-related illness such as heart attacks and strokes (compared to 20,800 the previous year). One third of all the excess winter deaths reported were caused by respiratory diseases. Whilst it’s true that not all winter deaths are due to fuel poverty, over 10m British families live in a home with a leaking roof, damp walls or rotting windows. The links between cardiovascular diseases and cold, damp homes cannot be ignored.

It is a national disgrace that thousands of people are dying unnecessarily every year – lives that could be saved if a little TLC was applied to their property.

In summary


Houses will inevitably become empty over time. The families within them may outgrow them or move on when the house is no longer suited to their needs. It is important that when this happens, the reason for the move is addressed. If it is because of inadequacies within the property itself, then these issues must be rectified immediately in order to minimise the time the property lies dormant – because an empty property is dead expense for housing associations and another nail in the coffin of achieving the housing target.

It may be an overly simplistic view, but I am of the opinion that a house should never be empty in a society where people do not have a place to call home. Homelessness has reached its highest peak and waiting lists for social housing are growing. We need to recognise the full potential that refurbishment and retrofit has to offer quickly if we are to tackle the housing crisis effectively. Let’s give it a greater focus.

43 fossilised dinosaur eggs were recently discovered by construction workers during roadworks in Heyuan city in China. What else lies undiscovered just beneath your steel toecap boots? Joe Bradbury of buildingspecifier explores:

Heyuan is affectionately called “the hometown of the dinosaur” by locals. So far over 13,000 fossilised eggs have been discovered in the area over the last 20 years. The first eggs to be discovered were found on a construction site in 1995 when two young boys were playing and discovered what they first thought were peculiar rocks. Another discovery was made the following year on a river bank in 1996. Since then there has been discovery after discovery.

The high volume of Dinosaur fossils, skeletons and footprints makes Heyuan a Mecca for palaeontologists and has resulted in the city being entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the largest collection of dinosaur eggs in the world.

City officials have since spent millions on constructing a dinosaur theme park and museum in a bid to cash in on their archaeological findings, however it appears efforts have been in vain as it has thus far failed to draw in any significant number of tourists.

The one review on Trip Advisor for the museum says “It is a small museum. It took us not more than 30 minutes to finish viewing.”

In conversations with the Chinese news, local archaeologist Du Yanli stated that 19 of the 43 eggs that were found are still intact, and some of them quite sizeable. The largest had a diameter of 13cm.

Most of the fossils, eggs and bones found in the city so far date from the late Cretaceous period, 89-65 million years ago.

The eggs have been given to the Chinese Academy of Sciences who will now attempt to reveal the species of dinosaur that laid the fossilised eggs.

This isn’t the first weird or wonderful thing that has been uncovered on a construction site. With large excavations commonplace in the building industry, we are often the first to find things. Here are our top 3 British discoveries:


  1. Mass grave of headless Vikings


During Road construction in Dorset in 2009, 51 headless skeletons were found in a mass grave. The skeletons were found entwined together in the pit, and are believed to be Vikings killed between A.D. 890 and 1034 and buried naked.


  1. Unexploded 1,000lb WW2 bomb found on construction site near the Shard


Demolition experts Matthews Group discovered an unexploded 1,000lb World War Two bomb on a south London building site located close to the Shard last month. Bomb disposal experts successfully disarmed the bomb and transported it to Kent, where it was destroyed.



  1. 3,000 pre-medieval skeletons and Roman suburbs in London


The large scale construction of Crossrail through the very heart of London is consequently resulting in one of the biggest archaeological programmes ever undertaken in Britain. Crossrail operates over 40 construction sites; one of which Crossrail is in Liverpool Street. Archaeologists recently unearthed up to 3,000 skeletons from the Post-Medieval Bedlam burial ground and parts of the Roman suburbs found as a direct result of the works.


It has halted developments across the country, caused untold damage to existing housing stock and rendered some properties completely unsellable. How much do you know about Japanese knotweed? As the sun coaxes this nuisance from the ground, Joe Bradbury of buildingspecifier.com investigates:

What is it?

Japanese knotweed is a non-native outdoor plant which grows at an alarming rate of up to 10cm per day. It proliferates in any type of soil and spreads incredibly easily, often leaving extensive damage in its wake.

By aggressively spreading its roots underground (up to 10 feet deep and 23 feet horizontally), it creates a serious threat to foundations of buildings and waste water management solutions.

If left untouched for a long period of time, the species can become very expensive to remove. It is estimated that total annual costs of Japanese knotweed damage, control and removal to the British economy £166 million. Defra’s Review of Non-native Species Policy states that a national eradication programme would be prohibitively expensive at £1.56 billion.

Needless to say, it is listed by the World Conservation Union as one of the world’s worst invasive species and also classed as “controlled waste” in Britain under part 2 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This means that all traces of knotweed need to be disposed of at licensed landfill sites only.

What does it look like?

Could you identify Japanese knotweed if you found it on your property? Because a study undertaken by online garden shop GardeningExpress.co.uk found that only 44% of customers were actually able to identify the invasive plant, and 56% identified the weed as a plant they would actually welcome in their gardens.
Here are some of the easiest ways of identifying knotweed by sight:

  • The plant is a lush green colour
  • Its leaves are shovel shaped
  • The stem looks similar to that of the bamboo plant
  • Between September and October it produces white flowers
  • It grows at an accelerated pace

What to do if you find Japanese knotweed

If you think that you have Japanese knotweed on your land you need to do something about it as soon as possible, to prevent further risk to your property and those close by.

The first thing you need to do is to alert a professional. DO NOT attempt to remove it from the ground yourself; this will merely serve to disperse its stem fragments and cause it to spread even further.

There are three main methods of getting rid of the weed. These can be split into three areas:

Non-chemical control

It is possible (but not always feasible) to dig out Japanese knotweed, but due to the depth of the roots, regrowth often reoccurs regardless. This method also creates problems with disposal, due to the waste needing to be disposed of at a licensed landfill site only. Alternatively, it can be destroyed on site by burning the waste, but only after it has competently dried out.

Biological control

A plant sucker (psyllid) is being released in the UK as a biological control for Japanese knotweed. It is currently only being released at a handful of trial sites and is not available to gardeners. However, if successful it will be released more widely and will become widespread in Britain over the next five to ten years by natural spread.

Chemical control

Perhaps the most effective treatment method is to use special weed killers to keep the plant at bay. Often it takes a lot longer this way (up to three seasons),but can produce great results in the long run. Injecting glyphosate herbicide into the stems of the plant can kill the plant completely with no impact on the surrounding vegetation, landscape or wildlife.

In summary

Japanese knotweed is a major issue for British builders. It is in everybody’s interest to be vigilant towards this invasive plant and prioritise the control and removal of it from our properties altogether – particularly those with surrounding parkland and riverbanks from where the infestations usually originate and spread from in the first place.

To celebrate ‘Plastic Free July’, Insulation Express has uncovered five ways on buildingspecifier.com that the construction industry can lessen its plastic consumption on a day-to-day basis:

Every year the UK uses over 5 million tonnes of plastic – that’s about 15 times as heavy as the Empire State Building. But did you know the construction industry accounts for a quarter (23%) of the plastic consumed in the UK? The construction industry is still heavily reliant on plastic, for its cheapness, durability and water-resistance making it the second largest consumer of plastic in the UK.

However, what makes plastic so useful for construction is also part of its demise. The resilience of plastic means it can take up to 1000 years to decompose, while it degrades it contaminates our soils and oceans with the release of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. So, how can the industry lessen its plastic footprint?

The most common sources of plastic waste in construction

When plastic is used in a permanent form, it can be vital as a building material. However, when the material is single-use plastic, this becomes a bigger problem, that’s wasteful and can be easily avoided. These are the most common sources of plastic waste in construction:

  • Plastic packaging (which accounts for 25% of packaging waste in construction).
  • Unused materials from over ordering and off-cuts.
  • Improper storage and handling.
  • Over-specified project design.
  • Workforce food packaging and utensils.

Annually, 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste is produced by the UK’s construction industry

It’s believed the construction industry has an effective management of plastic waste, but the picture is not as transparent. The British construction industry generates 50,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste per year – that’s four times the weight of The Brooklyn Bridge. Much of that plastic waste is incinerated, adding toxic fumes to the air we breathe. Other large amounts of plastic are placed in mixed waste skips which is impossible to recycle, because they can’t be identified, or they are contaminated with other materials. This has helped to contribute to 5 trillion micro-plastic particles floating in oceans, which we then consume through water or from fish.

40% of plastic waste from construction in the UK is sent to landfill

It’s estimated that large quantities of plastic leave construction sites in mixed waste skips – sending 40% (20,000 tonnes) of plastic to landfill, a weight that is twice as heavy as The Eiffel Tower.

On the other end of the scale, Germany recovers and recycles a huge proportion of the plastic waste created in construction. In total, Germany generates 201.8 million tonnes of waste in construction and demolition, but around 90% of that is recycled, and around 80% of the plastic waste is recycled.


How construction can reduce plastic packaging waste in construction

Research reveals that a huge third of single-use packaging leaving sites is single-use packaging. Shockingly, only 2-4% of this is recycled. The rest is diverted to landfill, fly-tipped, or burnt. It is clear that the amount of plastic being sent to landfill is not sustainable for either the environment or construction.

Most of the industry realises something needs to change, with 95% of construction professionals admitting that the industry needs to reduce plastic use. But, how can this be achieved?

  • A huge proportion of packaging thrown away can often be reused. You can talk with your supplier to see if they can reduce the packaging, or if they’re able to take back the packaging to recycle.
  • It may be more beneficial to order in bulk or larger packs, as this will cut the volume of packaging per item.
  • You could use reusable plastic boxes to place and protect materials in. These boxes can then be returned to the supplier.
  • Use large sheets of plastic sheeting that arrived as wrapping for use on site as weather protection.
  • For the plastic packaging that can’t be recycled, send it to a licensed Waste Management Contractor. They are best placed to decide their destination.

Not only does a reduction in packaging waste help the environment, it can also help your business too – financially. One contractor, Risby Homes, saved £13,000 on a 25-home development project, simply by reducing, reusing and recycling their plastic waste.

Construction companies can make simple changes that save money by reducing packaging waste, such as:

  • Cutting costs by reusing packaging where possible.
  • Time spent on handling waste, such as clearing and collecting waste, can be lengthy and pricey. Especially considering this cost can be easily cut by reducing packaging.
  • Slashing the costs of skip hire and transport costs, as well as reducing the ever-increasing fees of landfill sites and tax.

The Innovative Ways Plastic is Being Recycled Across Construction

How can construction reduce and recycle the plastic in construction? Some companies in the industry are even creating decking from recycled plastic, which can save 1000 plastic bottles from landfill in a single metre of decking. That means in just a small sized decking 3,600 plastic bottles could be diverted from landfill.

But it doesn’t just stop there, Insulation Express has discovered the most innovative ways construction are reusing waste materials.

Nappy Roofing – More than half a million tonnes of waste is created in Britain from disposable nappies, and with each one taking around 500 years to decompose this is a concerning problem. But, instead of letting the waste decompose, you could be looking at roofing your house with them. A company have found a way to turn waste nappies into roof tiles, which could save 110,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.

Plastic Roads – Roads are traditionally made from asphalt which uses stone and gravel to form the infrastructure. However, future roads could be made from used plastic – dubbed plasphalt. Amazingly, as well as a way of recycling plastic, this method of forming pavements is also stronger than asphalt and less expensive.

Plastic Concrete – Researchers from Bath University have found an ingenious way to save sand and reuse plastic waste. The scientists have discovered that 10% of the sand in concrete can be replaced with plastic waste. Concrete requires 30% of sand, which strips our beaches and riverbeds. Just replacing 10% of it can save over 800 million tonnes of sand.

What Does the Future Hold for Plastic in Construction?

Plastic still has a place in construction; it’s durable, waterproof and lasts long. Although plastic is polluting our environment, it doesn’t have to be the enemy. Indeed, there are ways for plastic to be part of the solution, such as recycling plastic into other building materials. In the future we may see a massive take up of alternatives to plastic in construction, some of these are already being developed and trialled. But for the average construction professional, you can reduce plastic use by talking to your supplier, educating your workforce and setting a good example to employees.

Our industry needs to change. To do this, we must cast a critical eye over our own behaviour and acknowledge our shortcomings; something many feel understandably hesitant to do. The bad news is that the UK construction industry is currently responsible for 45% of total UK carbon emissions, 32% of all landfill waste and is responsible for more water pollution incidents than any other industry. The good news is that we have the knowledge, skills and technology to facilitate real change in the world, when we put our minds to it. Offsite construction is the clearly catalyst. It’s time to stop quietly knowing it and start being proud bastions of our trade… before it is too late. Buildingspecifier.com Editor Joe Bradbury discusses:

Material usage

One of the key factors that will either seal our reputation as innovators or sully it indefinitely is the materials we use and how we choose to use them. With an unprecedented shortage of housing and schools in this country (coupled with a thriving private sector), it is clear to see that despite what construction industry doomsayers print, the UK has a voracious appetite for buildings that isn’t going away any time soon.

The construction industry is the largest consumer of natural resources in the UK today; a stark point that highlights just how high up on the agenda reconsideration of our building practices should be. The impact of our materials usage on the environment in of itself is staggering; a recent report by Willmott Dixon Group suggested that the construction industry alone is accountable for around 45-50% of global energy usage, nearly 50% of worldwide water usage, and around 60% of the total usage of raw materials.

Construction will always eat up a lot of resources by its very nature, but modular construction is taking steps to address this through combining modern building techniques to reduce cost and time with a moral sense of duty to minimise the negative effects on our environment.

The benefits of adopting more considerate ways to use materials are far-reaching. Take FSC-approved timber as just one of many examples; manufacturers who use forest products that are FSC approved can do so with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they are helping to ensure our forests are alive and well for generations to come. But the benefits are also far more immediate and closer to home than that; wood is a natural, renewable material, used often in modular building. It offsets our carbon footprint and offers significant thermal efficiency, keeping energy bills low.

For the four million people in Britain living in fuel poverty today, building more energy efficient homes using modern methods of construction is urgent. Interestingly, if housing targets were met through timber-frame construction alone, new build homes in the UK would serve as carbon ‘banks’, capturing and storing nearly 4 million tonnes of CO2 every year… unfeasible I know, but food for thought!

Reducing waste

According to ‘The Waste and Resources Action Programme’, offsite construction can generate up to 90% less waste than traditional onsite building methods. This is largely because a factory is a much more controlled environment than a traditional building site – with far fewer variables. Within the four walls of a purpose built factory we can continue to learn how best to use (and more importantly, re-use) resources and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill; something which is financially unproductive, unpopular, unsightly and unhealthy for our planet.

Another reason for offsite methods generating less waste is due to the fact that modular construction offers a greater degree of reusability; buildings can often be disassembled and moved to another site entirely if necessary. They can be shifted and repurposed when required. However, should a modular building find itself no longer fit for requirement as it stands, many of its components can be salvaged and re-used in another project, reducing the need for fresh new materials in each new build. This reduction in materials usage protects depleting stock of resources whilst simultaneously lowering waste.

Environmentally conscious

Offsite construction is far less energy intensive than traditional building methods. The carbon footprint left by the many construction vehicles and machinery on the site of a traditional construction project alone is considerably larger than that of modular construction. Put simply, fewer vehicles involved and less time spent on site results in less greenhouse gases being released into our environment.

Construction pollutes our world in more ways than one, and noise pollution has always been a serious problem on building sites throughout the country. There’s no getting away from it, the construction industry has a huge impact on all our lives, with most construction work taking place in sensitive locations. But there are things we can do to soften that impact. If all construction sites and companies presented an image of competent management, innovation, efficiency, awareness of environmental issues and above all neighbourliness, then they would become a positive advertisement, not just for themselves but for our industry as a whole. Due to being built away from the construction site, modern methods of construction such as offsite and modular are a great way to reduce and control noise levels, causing less disruption to the environment and the people around it.

In summary

The positive effects of modular construction on our environment cannot be understated and implementing it into our daily lives as an industry needs to happen fast. Widespread adoption coupled with a continuing focus on eco-friendly materials can only increase those benefits.

In the past, fines for pollution have been relatively low and environmental regulations notoriously slack, and it could have been perceived as cheaper (and easier) to pollute rather than take adequate steps to prevent pollution. Thankfully, this situation is now changing. Legal enforcement of environmental regulations expensive and can irreversibly damage the reputation of a firm. This is something that should be avoided at all costs.

With the UK Environment Agency and other government bodies putting increasing pressure on construction companies to reduce pollution and conform to environmental regulations, it is clear to see that change is imminent – the future is coming and we can either chase it or make it our own. Expect modular construction to take an even larger share of the construction industry, for awareness of its benefits to increase even further over time and stand at the forefront of that change.