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Deal reached on £1.25 trillion European transport network

March 30th, 2012 1 comment

Transport ministers have reached agreement on proposals to transform the existing patchwork of roads, railways, airports and canals into a unified European transport network.

The proposed Regulation for guidelines for Trans-European Networks(TEN-T) is designed to remove cross-border bottlenecks, upgrade infrastructure and streamline cross-border transport operations for passengers and businesses throughout the EU.

The cost of EU infrastructure development to match the demand for transport has been estimated at over €1.5 trillion (£1.25 trillion) for 2010-2030. The completion of the TEN-T network requires about €550bn until 2020 out of which some €215bn can be referred to the removal of the main bottlenecks.

By 2030 the new core European transport network will connect 86 main European ports with rail and road links, 37 key airports with rail connections into major cities. In addition, 15,000km of railway line will be upgraded to high speed and there will be 35 major cross-border projects to reduce bottlenecks.

Commission vice-president Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, said: “This is a very significant step forwards. Transport is the lifeblood of the European economy. And if it does not flow smoothly, our economy will weaken and fail to grow. Ministers have today given strong political backing for plans to build the strategic transport connections necessary to fuel Europe’s future economic growth.”

Ministers endorsed the Commission’s proposals for a new EU transport core network to be completed by 2030. The core network will establish the vital transport connections necessary to underpin the single market and fuel future economic growth and allow a more focused and effective targeting of EU transport investments.

The core network will be complemented by a comprehensive transport network feeding into it, with a time horizon of 2050.

The Commission’s proposals set common technical requirements for the TEN-T infrastructure to ensure seamless transport connections interoperability throughout the network. For example, the basic ITS systems to control the trains must apply on most parts of the TEN-T network and tunnel and road safety standards must apply throughout.

The new TEN-T guidelines introduce 10 implementing corridors on the core transport network. This is necessary to ensure co-ordinated development of the network. The corridors will bring together the member states concerned, as well as the relevant stakeholders. European co-ordinators will chair “corridor platforms” that will bring together all the stakeholders.

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Brace yourself for planning storm

March 28th, 2012 4 comments

This week  saw the government publishing its new national planning policy framework that is somehow intended to square the circle of promoting growth, localism and sustainability all at the same time.

The 50 page document will replace nearly a million words and more than a thousand pages of planning rules.

In his budget statement last week, chancellor George Osborne said that there would be a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”. He described the new planning framework as “the biggest reduction in business red tape ever undertaken”.

Mr Osborne said: “Global businesses have diverted specific investments that would have created hundreds of jobs in some of the most deprived communities in Britain to countries like Germany and the Netherlands, because they couldn’t get planning permission here.”

On this basis, the new policy document is likely to be welcomed by the construction industry but will create uproar among conservation, countryside and heritage groups.

Not only will the new framework be hugely controversial, whatever it says, because planning always is, there could also be problems for local authorities.

Property consultant Drivers Jonas Deloitte says that local authorities who have produced local plans could find them inconsistent with, or even contradicting, national planning policy.  Head of planning John Adams said: “It is great to see a new presumption in favour of sustainable development, as part of a suite of policies designed to promote growth.  However, local authorities who have rightly pressed ahead with local plans as part of the government’s localism agenda could find them inconsistent with the framework.

“Many councils have been arguing that there needs to be a ‘transition’ period and that the national planning policy framework (NPPF) will need to be brought in incrementally, to allow local authorities to amend their plans to make them ‘NPPF-proof’. Others have argued that ‘growth’ cannot be put on hold and the NPPF policies will need to come into immediate effect and with full force. We will hopefully get some guidance on how to straddle this divide.”

 

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Extensions ‘are an easy way’ to improve a property

March 27th, 2012 1 comment

A good way to upgrade a house is to add an extension, a specialist has said.

Director of the National Home Improvement Council Andrew Leech said building a conservatory is “one of the easiest ways of improving a property”.

He also highlighted renovating the loft space into rooms as a good method of increasing the size of a domicile.

Many people are staying in their current dwelling and refurbishing it to meet their needs at the moment, the expert remarked, pointing out this involves a “lot less hassle” than moving to another structure.

Particularly expensive extensions should only be performed by individuals who plan to live in the same house for a long period of time, but relatively cheaper ones of around £15,000 will recoup their initial cost “after a few years”, Mr Leech said.

Architect-your home  architect Tom Gresford recently argued homeowners can increase the size of their property for £10,000, although the overall expense will depend on what the customer wants.

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Homeowners ‘could make home improvements themselves’

March 26th, 2012 Comments off

There are a number of renovation and refurbishment jobs that homeowners could be able to do without professional assistance, an expert has said.

Jason Orme, Homebuilding & Renovating magazine editor, pointed out flooring and tiling should be accomplishable by a layman, particularly if the task is uncomplicated.

He argued the internet can also help people who wish to perform home improvement or DIY tasks themselves, noting many websites “explain how to do these things and how to do them well”.

“There is absolutely no reason” that many of the things an individual might hire an expert for cannot be completed without professional assistance, the specialist remarked.

Mr Orme advised those who doubt their abilities to practice and to “give it a go” in a small area that does not mean a lot to them.

However, Roofapedia.com representative Nick Oldridge recently said repairs and maintenance work on the roof is best left to the experts.

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Contractor Shepherd for biomass-related construction works at the Drax power station

March 22nd, 2012 Comments off

Drax has signed up contractor Shepherd for biomass-related construction works at the Drax power station site near Selby.

Drax has announced plans to invest £50m this year in new biomass storage and handling facilities and other plant modifications. Shepherd will be working on delivering the capability to produce up to 20% of the power station’s output from sustainable biomass fuels.

Drax would like to go further to transform Drax into a predominantly biomass fuelled generator but only if it gets more subsidy from taxpayers.

In October 2011 the government announced its proposals for the future subsidy levels for renewable technologies. Drax welcomed the creation of a new band for ‘enhanced co-firing’, but wants more subsidy “to maximise the full potential of Drax” to produce this form power.

Increasing the power station’s biomass co-firing capability to 20% of output will ensure that Drax qualifies for increased support under the new proposals. Any further investment depends on it getting the “appropriate regulatory support”, it said. The government aims to publish its response to the consultation on future support levels in the spring and legislate in the summer.

Drax chief executive Dorothy Thompson, said: “Drax is ready to transform itself into a predominantly biomass fuelled generator, but to do so we need appropriate regulatory support, and to that end we look forward to the timely conclusion of the government’s current review of the future support levels for renewable technologies.”

Mark Perkins, chief executive of Shepherd’s built environment division, said: “We are delighted to be working with Drax. Shepherd Group’s designers have worked closely with the Drax team to develop integrated technical solutions that will create world leading biomass facilities and support Drax’s intention to become a lower carbon generator.

“The project will also generate wider opportunities for local people in terms of employment and skills training, and we will be maximising opportunities for local businesses, working closely with our supply chain partners throughout the build.”

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Implementation of charges for health and safety prohibition notices delayed for at least six months

March 20th, 2012 1 comment

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) was supposed to be implementing its cost recovery scheme, Fee for Intervention (FFI), in April 2012. However, it has still not been able to work out the technical detail of how the scheme will work, despite practice runs with it. It now hopes to implement the new system in October this year.

The scheme sets out to recover HSE costs from those who break health and safety laws.

HSE’s programme director Gordon MacDonald said: “The government has agreed that it is right that those who break the law should pay their fair share of the costs to put things right – and not the public purse.

“The government intends to proceed with the FFI scheme as recommended to ministers by HSE’s board in December in response to the formal consultation that took place last summer. Discussions are still taking place on the technical details of the scheme, which we expect to conclude soon.

“Therefore, FFI will not be introduced in April but at the next available opportunity, which is likely to be October 2012.”

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Can CPD plug the BIM skills gap?

March 19th, 2012 Comments off

79% of construction professionals responding to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Building believe that up-to-date Continuing Professional Development can alleviate skills gaps in the industry.

“Professional bodies have long been the ambassadors for continuing professional development. It’s what sets a professional qualification apart from an academic one and certainly within our membership there is a real appetite and culture of CPD.  It could be argued that the role of CPD has been undervalued.  But if we look at topics like the rise of Building Information Modelling combined with the shortfall of industry training funds then it might well be left to CPD providers to plug the skills gap,” commented Michael Brown deputy chief executive at the CIOB.

The survey taken by more than 1,500 respondents took the industry’s temperature on current CPD provision.

8 out of 10 felt that CPD was an important, very important or essential ingredient for their career development, with 46% seeing an improvement in their own performance as a result of CPD. 44% felt that CPD had improved their ability to cope with change.

In the last twelve months 30% of respondents believed taking part in CPD had improved their own employability. With 49% suggesting that their employers had remained committed to provide and/or support CPD during 2011.

80% felt that CPD can improve the technical knowledge of construction graduates, bridging the gap between academic qualifications and work ready skills.

Asked whether respondents valued CPD at the same level as the previous year (2010) the majority (70%) regarded it of the same importance (important/very important/essential), with a further 17% suggesting it had become more important.

From what we see in this survey there is an increasing trend towards online CPD provision rather than the more traditional formal training methods. That won’t come as a surprise for most of us; the convenience of distance learning is an attractive proposition. What we have to be mindful of, as we have to with all education and training programmes, is that the CPD on offer is actually valuable and relevant and not just a money making machine. We can’t expect to tackle the big issues with poorly conceived training.

 

Source: CIOB
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May Gurney to maintain redundant rail structures

March 15th, 2012 2 comments

May Gurney has been awarded a new framework contract to maintain redundant structures across the rail network in northern England and Scotland.

The contract has been awarded by BRB Residuary, which is government owned and falls under the jurisdiction of the Department for Transport.

The framework is for a three-year period commencing 1 April 2012, and is likely to be worth in the region of £3m per annum. It covers all works north of a line drawn between the Humber and the Mersey including Scotland, and will be administered from May Gurney’s York office.

At the end of the initial three-year period BRB Residuary will be disbanded and the framework is likely to pass to the Highways Agency.

Matt Kuzemko, acting managing director May Gurney Rail Services, said: “This success is particularly pleasing as it delivers a core income stream for our own labour force, including our in-house mechanical and electrical capabilities as well our highly regarded project teams. We look forward to helping BRB protect our railway heritage.”

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Falls and rises in January construction stats

March 13th, 2012 Comments off

Construction output fell by 2.3% in January compared with January 2011 according to latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

But a comparison of the three months from November 2011 to January 2012 with the same period a year earlier shows the volume of construction output growing by 0.6% in constant prices, not seasonally adjusted. Of the two main components, new work grew by 0.7%  and repair and maintenance rose by 0.4%.  The largest increase (11.1%) was new infrastructure work and new public non-housing showed the largest percentage fall of 15.4% per cent.

The Q4 2011/Q3 2011 change in the constant price, seasonally adjusted series has been revised to a slight fall of 0.2%, up from the original estimate of a 0.5% fall.

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Brits renovating ‘to prepare for old age’

March 12th, 2012 1 comment

Interior design practices are trying to accommodate older individuals with rising frequency.

This is according to Easy Living Home director Alison Wright, who claimed this particular sector is “flourishing” at the moment as a result of the “burgeoning increase” in the number of Brits more than 65 years old, particularly those aged over 80.

Official statistics published by the government revealed that in 2008, there were ten million people who lived in the UK and were older than 65, with this number expected to reach 19 million by 2050.

Ms Wright claimed these members of the public are increasingly living at home or with their families as a result of the “spiralling cost of residential care”.

Accommodation catering for “independent living” is set to become more established in the future due to these factors, she predicted.

Local authority grants providing care for the elderly will become “even more difficult to obtain”, the expert stated.

Ms Wright said people are adapting their present residences so they can cater for older individuals.

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