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Archive for February, 2011

Taylor Wimpey launches first-time buyer mortgage deal

February 28th, 2011 Comments off

houseTaylor Wimpey says it has negotiated an exclusive mortgage-guarantee scheme that can provide 95% loan-to-value mortgages for first-time buyers.

The house builder’s Take5 deal, backed by Melton Mowbray Building Society and Saffron Building Society, means that a two-bedroom home can be secured with a deposit of just £5,750, compared with the UK average of £28,770.

Loans are available at rates of 5.49% and 5.99%, fixed for two years, and are backed by insurance, the cost of which is covered by Taylor Wimpey.

Although currently only on offer in three regions (East Midlands, East Anglia and East London) the developer’s group chief executive, Pete Redfern, says discussions are at an advanced stage with other lenders to extend the initiative.

Earlier this week, Housing Minister Grant Shapps called on key players in the UK housing industry to work more closely together to help first-time buyers get a foot on the property ladder.

House builders, lenders, insurers, councils and consumer groups attended a summit hosted by the Minister, to discuss how they could step up their efforts to help young people who aspire to own their own home.

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Rising Material Costs Exacerbate Industry Problems

February 25th, 2011 Comments off

A sharp increases in material prices during the final quarter of 2010 exacerbated the construction industry’s problem of falling workload, according to the latest Construction Trade Survey.

Furthermore, with no expectation that material price inflation will fall near term, product manufacturers and contractors anticipate that sales and workloads will decline in 2011 due to economic uncertainty and falls in public spending.

The quarterly survey is produced by the Construction Products Association (CPA), with input from members of the Civil Engineers Contractors Association (CECA), the National Federation of Builders (NFB), and UK Contactors Group (UKCG. The information is compiled from a survey of members from across all sectors of the industry.

CPA economics director Noble Francis said:  ‘The Construction Trade Survey for 2010 Q4 highlights the effect of the poor weather in November and December, which combined with falling demand across the industry and sharprises in costs during 2010, such as the 46% price increase in copper and 80% in iron ore, are exacerbating problems for the industry. Although January will see a slight upturn due to a degree of  catch-up™ work lost during the poor weather in Q4, this is likely to be shortlived and firms across the whole industry are pessimistic looking forward.  We have not yet seen the full impact of the public sector spending cuts and without a considerable improvement in private sector construction, a recovery in the industry as a whole will be delayed; as construction accounts for around 9% of GDP, this will inevitably hinder growth for the economy during 2011.

‘With 70% of light side manufacturers and 56% of heavy side manufacturers experiencing a fall in sales in Q4 compared to a year ago along with 22% of building contractors also reporting a fall, there is great uncertainty regarding economic activity during the coming year.’

UKCG director Stephen Ratcliffe said: ‘While most UKCG members are reporting good order books for 2011, there is real uncertainty about the future especially in relation to public sector investment.  For example we are still awaiting the conclusions of the James review of school building and many other public sector forward lines of investment remain unclear.  UKCG has called on the government to clarify infrastructure investment opportunities as a top priority in its growth strategy

NFB chief executive Julia Evans added: Given that the full extent of the governments spending cuts has yet to work its way through the system, the combination of less work, rising material prices, lower margins, continued lending restrictions and a rise in VAT could not have come at a worse time. Companies can only battle these conditions for so long. With the rate of construction insolvencies exceeding that of other industries, the impact on our skills base will be devastating.

Key survey findings are:

Fewer than 10% of building contractors reported problems recruiting on-site labour in 2010 Q4

90% of light side firms and 53% of heavy side firms stated that employment fell in the fourth quarter of 2010

Only 46% of building contractors reported that they were operating at between 90% and full capacity in 2010 Q4

47% of light side manufacturers and 61% of heavy side manufacturers reported that rising raw materials costs had led to a rise in manufacturing costs in the fourth quarter of 2010

Only 4% of specialist contractors reported being paid within 30 days but 3% of specialists paid in over 90 days during 2010 Q4

81% of light side manufacturers reported a rise in investment in product improvement and 64% reported a rise in investment in plant and equipment in the fourth quarter of 2010

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Quantity of plasterboard going to landfill cut dramatically

February 23rd, 2011 Comments off

Plasterboard going to landfill has been dramatically reduced – the latest report on plasterboard waste, produced as part of the Ashdown Agreement, details a further fall in quantities, for the third year in a row. This year’s report in particular shows a significant drop in the amount of gypsum landfilled during the manufacture of new plasterboard; down to just 504 tonnes (twelve months to 31 March 2010) against the original target of 10,000 tonnes (year 2007/08).

The Ashdown Agreement arose as a response to the need to address waste gypsum produced in the UK. The annual production of plaster in the UK is estimated to be around 700 million Kg, equivalent to more than 60 million bags, with over 200 million m2 of plasterboard produced. This material is used predominantly in house building, commercial and industrial building, and repairs. WRAP estimates that waste arising from construction and demolition is between 0.5 – 1 Million tonnes per annum, depending on market conditions.

The Agreement is an arrangement between WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and the Gypsum Products Development Association (GPDA); comprising of British Gypsum, Knauf Drywall and Lafarge Plasterboard.

The scheme began in April 2007 by identifying four targets it would pursue in order to reduce plasterboard waste and increase recycling. These targets have been reviewed by WRAP and GPDA annually to assess their progress and to ensure that they remain realistic and sufficiently ambitious.

The results for these four targets for the twelve months to 31 March 2010 are as follows:

Target 1 : To engage with all stakeholders to undertake activities which reduce the amount of new plasterboard waste to landfill and increase recovery of all plasterboard waste. The manufacturers’ technical advice service provides customers with advice on eliminating site waste beginning at design and specification phase and continuing through installation.

Target 2 : To reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill, both monocell and co-disposal, from UK plasterboard manufacturing operations. The results for the 12 months to 31 March 2010 exceeded expectations by a significant margin as just 504 tonnes of waste gypsum was sent to landfill against the revised target of 5,000 tonnes. The year 2009/10 was obviously a difficult one for the construction industry, nevertheless the reduction in waste gypsum is impressive, particularly when compared with the initial target set in 2007 to reduce this waste stream to 10,000 tonnes per year.

Target 3 : To increase the take back and recycling of plasterboard waste, for use in plasterboard manufacture, to 50% of new construction waste production by end 2010. For the 12 months until 31 March 2010 there has been a significant increase in the percentage of post-construction waste plasterboard recycled into new plasterboard, rising to 26%. Whilst this figure is still short of the target, the positive progress demonstrates the manufacturers’ efforts to meet this goal and is indeed an increase on the previous two reports, both of which showed take back and recycling to be around 20%.

The figure of 26% gives the situation by end of March 2010. Details for the remainder of that year will be reported in 2011. More increases are expected not least because the launch of a Quality Protocol makes recycling easier.

Target 4 : To work with all parties in the supply chain towards achieving the ultimate objective of zero plasterboard waste to landfill. This is a long-term target; nevertheless industry shows encouraging signs of delivering this aim. The amount of waste sent to landfill in 2006/07 was 11,279t, which has fallen to just 504 tonnes per year by March 2010. There are encouraging signs that the regulatory position on waste gypsum as a non-hazardous non-inert waste is also increasing recycling.

Mike Falconer Hall, Programme Manager Materials Recycling WRAP commented, “The Ashdown report shows the good progress the gypsum industry is making in tackling waste. Given the difficult economic situation and the effect this has had on construction, businesses are focussing on the cost as well as the environmental benefits of waste reduction and recycling. The biggest barrier to zero plasterboard waste remains contamination during demolition. Sort this, and zero waste could be a reality.”

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Britain could lead world in offshore wind power

February 21st, 2011 Comments off

windfarmBelfast’s Harland & Wolff shipyard is experiencing good busi9ness, this is where the Titanic and her sister ships were built. A century later it is the booming offshore wind-power industry that has taken centre stage.

“People know us as a shipbuilder and that accounted for almost 100pc of our business as recently as 2003. Now we are 75 per cent offshore-renewables based,” said David McVeigh, the firm’s sales and marketing manager. “We’re working on our third offshore windfarm and on a tidal energy device. It’s very high-value, hi-tech, value-added work.”

Harland & Wolff is one of many UK and international companies profiting from the dash to power the UK with wind- and marine-generated electricity, which is attracting significant inward investment.

The Spanish group Gamesa is set to built a wind-turbine factory in the Humber, Harwich or Tyneside as part of a £127m plan to base a global offshore wind business in the UK. Siemens has committed to building an offshore wind-turbine plant in Hull, which could ultimately create 10,000 jobs in the region. The global giants General Electric and Mitsubishi, meanwhile, are also looking for UK factory sites.

Figures from the renewable energy industry body RenewableUK suggest this investment is boosting employment. Full-time jobs in the sector grew by 91pc between 2007/8 and 2009/10, in contrast to overall UK employment, which shrank by 3.4pc in the same period. The potential in the coming decades is greater still. By 2050 offshore wind could be worth £65billion to the UK and could support 220,000 jobs.

The UK could develop a clear global lead in offshore wind, according to Benj Sykes, director of innovations at the Carbon Trust. “With offshore wind there’s a new generation of technology that’s up for grabs. I don’t believe the Danes, Germans or Norwegians have any de facto lead here.”

While wind is the immediate prize, the UK is ideally placed to develop, commercialise and deploy a number of other new green technologies with global export potential, said Mr Sykes. “The move to a low-carbon economy offers huge scope for developing new industries, goods and services. Marine energy, either tidal or wave, has the potential to employ a further 17,000 people and could enable us to capture a new global export market.”

Energy efficiency drives, such as the Government’s plans to “decarbonise” the nation’s building stock, will create further new business and jobs. The UK is also leading the research and development effort in transportable power systems, such as fuel cells, that might one day drive the world’s cars, said Mr Sykes.

West Sussex-based Ceres Power is hoping to be just such a global winner. Its innovative and highly efficient combined heat and power units, which generate electricity, hot water and space heating for homes by converting natural gas using fuel-cell technology, have the potential to shave hundreds of pounds a year from household utility bills.

British Gas has ordered 37,000 units, Ceres is on the verge of going into large scale production and the potential market is vast, said the firm’s chief executive officer, Peter Bance. “Today 1.5million boilers are replaced each year in the UK and we can attack most of that market.

“Goldman Sachs has said that the global market for this kind of product could be 30 million products a year. Beyond that we could exploit the technology in other sectors, for example for use in backup and auxiliary power units.”

Although Ceres looks well placed to grow rapidly, its fight to commercialise its innovations is instructive for others developing novel energy-efficiency and renewables technologies. “We hope to be the next Intel of the power world but getting to where we are has been a struggle,” said Mr Bance.

“The cards are firmly stacked against you in this sector. The cost of capital is high and it’s difficult to get suppliers’ attention. The UK produces plenty of good inventions but it’s rare to see them become successful here.” The problems are risk-averse British entrepreneurs and venture capitalists together with a lack of incentives, he said. “It’s no accident that many of our biggest backers are from the US. The UK does not have an attractive set of policies for green innovators to grow and thrive here; things are much better in Germany, the United States and Asia.”

The UK did well nurturing start-ups but was not doing enough to keep the successful green technology firms in the UK.

When Ceres expands its production it would almost certainly set up a factory outside the UK. Mr Sykes pointed out that the Government was planning to do more and said its £200million initiative to build technology and innovation centres, announced last month, should help start-ups survive. “The concept is a powerful one where R&D is brought together with industry to help technology to be commercialised. It will be a powerful model if it works. We need one on low-carbon technologies and I think it’s pretty likely to happen.”

Mark Elborne, CEO & President of GE UK, which will manufacture wind turbines in the UK as part of the development of its offshore wind business, agrees that funding the innovators is important. “At a time of economic difficulty and cuts in public spending, we also need to continue to ensure that we see good ideas and to support investment in them. Entrepreneurs and firms are ultimately key to delivering growth and the issue of access to capital needs to be addressed.”

Better tax breaks for clean-tech investors, rather than direct government intervention, would help, said Ian Foley of Williams Hybrid Power. The company, a spin-off from its Formula One racing parent, is commercialising highly advanced flywheels developed for racing cars. Its technology could cut fuel use in cars, buses and other transport at a fraction of the cost of existing technologies such as hybrid electric vehicles.

“I’m sceptical of the picking-winners approach. Why would government be any better at picking them? Winners will come out of a truly competitive environment and it’s the job of venture capitalists to provide that starting point,” said Mr Foley.

While government cannot be expected to pick winners, judicious strategic public funding can have a place in helping emerging sectors, said Mr Sykes. “It can help where market failure is preventing an industry from developing. Denmark is a good example, it has had massive success in wind because the Danish government supported those technologies at an early stage. It put a few billion in to get it started and the industry is worth a few billion dollars a year to them now.”

Nurturing green innovators at this stage is vital for establishing a lead in the industries of the future, said Mr Sykes. “Start with innovation and you have the best chance of capturing that market. You don’t wait until you can license someone else’s technology or you can be sure lower wage economies will come in and do it. You need to own the intellectual property. The know-how it gives you enables you to get a lead on others. Marine is a good example, the UK’s understanding of how wave and tidal energy can be captured enables us to get ahead in deploying it, making it difficult for others to catch up.”

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Cut the Carbon campaign

February 18th, 2011 Comments off

Cut the Carbon logoThousands of people with the right skills will be required to respond to the new market opportunities that will be created by the Government’s ‘Green Deal’. With homeowners and businesses able to apply for loans to reduce energy waste in their homes from next year, the scheme is set to heighten already growing demand for contractors with the skills and knowledge to cut carbon. There are already opportunities for work such as improving insulation, installing efficient energy sources and refurbishing to green standards, but is the industry ready to respond?

A good number of SMEs have already up-skilled and are winning work as a result, but recent research commissioned by CITB-ConstructionSkills highlights that three in ten builders still have a ‘poor understanding’ of the Low Carbon agenda. There are also continuing concerns over the proper accreditation of builders to ensure the public is protected.

To help small and medium sized (SME) contractors make the most of the opportunities created, the Cut the Carbon campaign has been launched by CITB-ConstructionSkills, the National Specialist Contractors Council and the Federation of Master Builders. It’s focus is on acquiring the right skills and knowledge to maximise the opportunities presented by a low carbon future. It builds on the work of bodies such as the Energy Saving Trust,  CIRIA and BRE, and highlights the support available to SMEs in particular.

There are a number of ways that SME businesses can ensure they have the knowledge and skills to deliver to their clients’ low carbon requirements, and the Cut the Carbon campaign has been developed to lead the way.

The Cut the Carbon web pages at www.cskills.org/cutcarbon provide a wealth of information for those looking to upskill and understand how to make the most of the opportunities that the low carbon agenda offers. Here, contractors can:

  • Check a timetable of new legislation related to cutting carbon in the built environment;
  • Learn about government and industry initiatives that are creating opportunities for low carbon work;
  • Understand more about practical ways to reduce carbon on a project; and
  • Find out about training and qualifications that will help SME contractors to win low carbon work.

In addition, CITB-ConstructionSkills is highlighting to Government the key skills areas that need to be addressed as part of the Green Deal if the Government is to achieve its aims. These include ensuring awareness amongst SMEs of the market potential; the need for Government investment in training for existing workers; creating codes of practice that will underpin the ‘Green Deal’ to ensure advisers, providers and installers operate effectively; and ensuring the accreditation of advisers, providers and installers is linked to standards and qualification.

SME contractors can win work through the drive to cut carbon, as long as they are able to demonstrate the skills to deliver what their clients want. The Cut the Carbon campaign points to practical ways that businesses can prepare and ensure they have the knowledge and skills they need.  Those that do not take action are already missing out.

For more information on the Cut the Carbon campaign, visit www.cskills.org/cutcarbon.

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Kitchen remodelling ‘remaining popular’

February 17th, 2011 2 comments

29-brisbane-lissaoak-1Homeowners are still looking to remodel their kitchens despite the economic downturn, according to one expert.

Caroline Wilson, northern regional sales manager at Pik-A-Pak, explained that there is still a high level of demand in the middle and upper regions of the market, although there has been a slight shift.

She explained that people in the centre of the affordability range are now looking to buy most cost effective kitchens than in previous years.

“They are still looking to have the quality products, but just not looking to pay quite as much for it,” Ms Wilson explained.

She added that there has been an emerging trend for colourful kitchens for people who are looking to add an up-to-date range to their property.

People who are planning to have a large remodelling project carried out at home were recently advised by Joe McLoughlin, director of Our Property check that all tradesmen are properly qualified before allowing them to start work.

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ONS revises up construction levels

February 16th, 2011 Comments off

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revised up figures for the construction industry from the fourth quarter of 2010.

Production levels in the sector during the last three months of the year are now stated to have declined by 2.5 per cent, rather than 3.3 per cent.

While the new figures still represent a downturn, it is noted that it is still eight per cent higher than it was during the same period of 2009.

This revision to the numbers has also had an effect on the UK’s total GDP for the period, with it now standing as a contraction of 0.4, rather than the 0.5 per cent that was initially reported.

However, the fall is still a dramatic slump as a decline had not been expected.

Recent statistics released by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and KPMG showed that there had been an increase in the number of people appointed to permanent construction roles in the six months to January 2011.

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DEAL: Floor Sander and Edging Sander – Hire Together and save £10

February 14th, 2011 Comments off

sander1DEAL: Floor Sander and Edging Sander – Hire Together and save £10

For a limited time you can hire both our Floor Sander and Edging Sander together and save £10.

Floor Sander: Removes imperfections stains paint and varnish to leave a perfect finish prior to varnishing.

Edging Sander: Where the floor sander finishes this machine takes over to sand right up to the skirting.

Hire a floor sander and edging sander together and save £10.00 off total base price

– Damage waiver and/or transport not included in discount

– Offer subject to availability

– Hire must be booked and paid for before 5pm 28th Feb 2011

– A selection of compatible sanding papers are available to purchase at cost

Call our Hire Team: 0843 224 9601

Visit our website:  http://www.nationaltoolhireshops.co.uk

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Court tells government to reconsider scrapped BSF schemes

February 14th, 2011 Comments off

Mr Justice Holman tells the government to reconsider scrapped BSF schemes

It is thought six councils will have schemes reviewed, but judge rules overrall decision to scrap the £55bn programme was rational

The government has been partially defeated in a High Court row over its scrapping of the £55bn BSF programme, with a judge ruling it must reconsider its decision to abandon six schemes.

The verdict comes after six councils – Waltham Forest, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell, Kent County Council and Newham – brought a judicial review case arguing that the stopping of projects in their areas was arbitrary and unlawful.

In today’s ruling, Mr Justice Holman ruled that the government must reconsider its decision to scrap projects in those authorities. However, in a blow for other councils that lost out, he said that the overall decision to end the BSF programme “was not open to legal challenge on the ground of irrationality.” He warned that other local authorities were in his view too late to bring any claim against the government, and that to bring any further cases would be “a grave and exorbitant usurpation… of the minister’s political role.”

Holman said: “Other local authorities than these claimants will no doubt read this judgment and may consider that they are in the same or a sufficiently similar factual position to claim the same relief. The decision is now, however, over seven months ago, and in my view  any other authorities would now be far too late to apply for judicial review.   I do not mean to trivialise so important an issue, but it may be said that fortune has favoured the brave.”

He ruled that the government must review its decision to scrap the BSF projects of the six local authorities involved in the court battle, even though it did not act in breach of any “legitimate expectation” of funding, because it failed to consult with the claimants about the effect on their individual projects. However, the future of these schemes still hangs in the balance, as he added: “The final decision on any given school or project still rests with [Secretary of State Michael Gove]..   He may save all, some, a few, or none, but no one should gain false hope from this decision.

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Garden Rooms or Traditional Extensions

February 11th, 2011 Comments off

imagesGarden Rooms -v- Traditional Extensions
Over the last 5 years UK householders have embraced the idea of extending their living space by building in the garden, and the market for garden rooms for use as offices, gyms, home cinemas and guest accommodation has boomed, whilst the rest of the construction industry has declined.
But, are garden rooms really comfortable to use all year round, and a genuine alternative to a brick built extension, or are they just glorified sheds?
A new survey by The Garden Room Guide, an independent garden room buyers guide, asked the leading garden room suppliers what the u-values of their garden rooms are, the results show that yes, there are some garden rooms that are just glorified sheds, but that many suppliers have designed their garden rooms to meet 2010 Building Regulation u-value targets for new buildings, and in fact many garden rooms actually out perform these target by some way, meaning they are better insulated than a new house!

Couple these findings with quick build times, seldom needing planning permission and even being able to take your garden room with you when you move, a fully insulated garden room is a genuine alternative to a brick built extension when you need to gain extra space.

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