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Pickles U-turns on ‘conservatory tax’

December 21st, 2012 Comments off

Communities secretary Eric Pickles has announced that “potentially dangerous” proposals which would have forced homeowners to introduce ‘consequential improvements’ throughout their home to increase energy efficiency, have been cancelled. The proposals, which would have meant homeowners already undertaking home improvements being forced to make extra investment, have been thrown out as the Government seeks to remove obstacles to economic growth.

As a result of the Department of Communities and Local Government’s removing the plans, anyone looking to improve their home through measures such as building a conservatory “will not be subject to any rules requiring them to carry out additional building works on other parts of the home.”

Ministers believed that if carried through, the proposals “would have deterred many people from having any work done in the first place.” Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said: “Having consulted carefully, the Government has noted the potential danger that introducing consequential improvements would, in fact, discourage people from undertaking home improvements.

“This measure ensures that it will remain straightforward for hard-working homeowners to undertake small-scale home improvements and conservatories.”

In January this year the DCLG published a consultation on reforms to Building Regulations in England, aimed at providing “significant savings to business,” which included asking for views on whether to require ‘consequential improvements’ to the energy efficiency of a home when other building work was undertaken, boilers replaced, or windows replaced.

The DCLG said: “Although most conservatories would not have been affected by such proposals, Ministers have carefully considered responses to the consultation, as well as research of the effects on homeowners and building professionals by the Energy Saving Trust and AECOM respectively. The Energy Saving Trust research indicated that over a third of households would be put off from doing home improvements if they had to undertake consequential improvements as well. The research also revealed concerns that there was greater potential for cowboy builders to mislead customers over what consequential improvements would be required.”

It continued: “Given the government’s growth agenda and the proposed lifting of planning rules to make it easier for people to carry out sensible extensions and improvements to their home Ministers have decided it would be inappropriate to place an additional cost on building owners. The Green Deal will continue to provide financial incentives to homeowners looking to improve their home’s energy efficiency, cut carbon emissions and reduce their long term energy bills.”

The Construction Product Association reacted to the news, saying it “had not supported consequential improvements in its response to Part L proposals early this year for work such as boiler or window replacements which reduced the carbon footprint of a home, but had on balance supported low cost and simple work to homes where extensions or other work was increasing the carbon footprint.” It added that it was difficult to gauge whether or not the move was supported by those consulted on Part L changes: “Given that the responses from consultees to the Part L consultation have still not been published by DCLG, it is not possible to judge whether the Secretary of State’s decision is supported by consultees.”

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Housing planning permission rises 36% quarter-on-quarter

December 19th, 2012 Comments off

housingHousing planning permission approvals in England have jumped by 36% in Q3 of this year, according to the latest figures from the Home Builders Federation’s (HBF) latest Housing Pipeline report.

33,881 homes were granted approvals in the third quarter of 2012, an increase from 24,872 on the previous quarter and up 17% on the same period last year (29,059).

Despite this rise, the Home Builders Federation said the number still fell well short of the 60,000 per quarter needed to meet demand, or the 64,500 that were being granted on average during 2006/07.

The HBF says that the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework in April of this year has resulted in an increased number of successful appeals in instances where local authorities have been behaving “unreasonably,” helping to boost the number of permissions granted.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman of the HBF, said: “The increase is good news and hopefully a reflection of the positive planning principles of the new system. It is just one quarterly increase and we are still well short of the number needed but we hope it starts a trend that will continue in 2013.”

“Continuing the current low level of house-building is storing up huge social and economic problems for the years ahead and the shortfall must be addressed.

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Working on fragile roofs

December 18th, 2012 Comments off

Falls through fragile roofs and fragile roof lights cause death and serious injury.

On average 7 people are killed each year after falling through a fragile roof or fragile roof light.

HSE has published a new leaflet

The leaflet is for building owners and occupiers, construction businesses and workers in the construction refurbishment and building maintenance sectors – in short, anyone working on fragile roofs or having work done.

It explains which surfaces present a particular risk, and what you should do as a building owner or occupier. It also explains what a safe system of work is, and gives some examples.

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UK construction data offers economy glimmer of hope

December 17th, 2012 Comments off

Construction output climbed by 8.3% in October, and economists say the improvement could help lift fourth-quarter GDP

The UK construction sector improved significantly in October, offering a glimmer of hope that the economy could grow in the final quarter of the year.

Construction output climbed by 8.3% in October – compared with a drop of 2.8% in September – driven by infrastructure output and private housebuilding. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows the sector has still shrunk by 5% in the year to October, but that compares with a 13% decline in the year to September.

Analysts said October’s figures appeared to show a truer picture of the state of the sector than earlier estimates. Philip Shaw of Investec Economics said: “They are more in line with our perception of what is going on in the sector. We had a broad view that construction has been under-recorded. Compared with what we pencilled in, the October numbers suggest the figures will be considerably stronger than they have over the first three quarters of the year so far.”

Construction figures are notoriously difficult to estimate because of the nature of the sector, which covers everything from one-man operations to multibillion-pound companies. It is also hard to gauge how much of a job is work in progress, as huge construction projects can take years to complete. Shaw said: “You’ve got a lot of small traders you may or may not capture. The phenomenon of work in progress you have to measure as well.”

Economists said the improvement could help lift GDP in the fourth quarter. Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said: “If the construction sector can make any positive contribution to GDP in the fourth quarter, it really would seem a bonus. While any growth in the construction sector would probably not be enough to stop a renewed dip in GDP in the fourth quarter, it would help to limit any decline.”

There have been concerns that the UK economy will contract in the last three months of the  , but some recent economic news has pointed to a more positive outlook. Data out on Friday showed new car sales in the UK had shot up by 11.3% in the 12 months to November, compared with a 10.3% slump in European sales. Earlier this week, figures showed unemployment in Britain recorded its sharpest quarterly drop in more than a decade in the late summer and early autumn as strong jobs growth by private companies more than offset labour shedding in the public sector. Meanwhile, the monthly snapshot of the property market from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors suggested house prices were stabilising and the number of sales continues to edge up.

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Olympic glory can’t save construction sector from downturn

December 13th, 2012 Comments off

The task of dismantling the Olympic Park means this small corner of east London is one of the busiest construction sites in the UK – but nationwide, the industry remains depressed

On a wet and cold morning last week, Vicki Tough, a freelance sub-contractor for Balfour Beatty abseiled down the side of the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park in east London and pulled off the last bit of the outer shell from the temporary seating stands.

Done with great fanfare, the stunt demonstrated the scale of the task left for the London Legacy Development Corporation, which formally took charge of the park last week. As well as removing the temporary structures, there is a huge job to transform the facilities that remain and turn the vast expanses of tarmac left behind into verdant parkland.

This small corner of east London is one of the busiest construction sites in the UK. As well as pulling down the Olympic Park, hundreds of workers are busy building the eastern stretch of Crossrail, the £15bn route that links Heathrow to the east and is due to open at the end of the decade.

But London is very much an exception when it comes to construction. Figures out on Tuesday showed construction activity continued to deteriorate last month, while earlier data from the Office for National Statistics showed the construction sector shrank by almost 11% in the year to September.

David Hogg, chief architect of Scottish group Barr Construction, says: “[The market] is very, very tight. The margins on projects are being pressured and there’s a good deal of competition. Some of the biggest contractors are going for the small jobs which is compressing that market. Everything is depressed.”

Analysts urge caution when looking at construction sector data, as it is a particularly difficult area to obtain reliable estimates. For a start, construction covers everything from a one-man operation up to multi-billion pound companies. It is also hard to gauge how much of a job is work in progress, as huge construction projects can take years to complete.

Philip Shaw at Investec says: “We tend to view the data with a degree of suspicion. Simply because the sheer weakness of the numbers doesn’t seem to be borne out by those people in the industry. Construction professionals agree wholeheartedly there has been a decline in activity but they would question the extent.”

Hogg says bigger groups have in some cases benefited from the demise of smaller rivals. “We’ve been fortunate in one or two recent situations where we’ve managed to pick up some work because of the malaise of other contractors, which is a sad situation.”

Barr Construction built the distinctive, textured white cube of the 12,000-seat basketball arena. Designed to be taken down after the Games, the structure is now owned by its builder, which is considering turning it into a Scottish tennis centre of excellence. “It’s probably one of the highest profile projects we’ve been involved in, in terms of public recognition,” says Hogg. “It gets us out there to be seen as a national contractor.” He says companies were willing to accept lower margins for the prestige of an Olympics job, but insists Barr made money on the basketball arena, making up for some less profitable work it did this year.

Back on site, the day could not be further from those sunny weeks in July and August, when the park was thronged with visitors. Now, it looks like a giant carpark, slick with rain, the grey and white structures of the aquatics centre and the bulbous water polo arena, blending in with a gloomy November sky. The only colour comes from small figures in high-vis jackets and hard hats that people the scene.

There are 350 jobs at the park at the moment and will be 1,000 at the peak of the transformation. The legacy corporation also trumpets the fact it is taking on 30 apprentices from the local area, training them up in construction as they go.

But that is just a drop in the ocean when looking at the national figures, which show a 25,000 decline in construction jobs this year. Here, Shaw says, the ONS data may actually understate the gravity of the situation. “It’s a sector that uses a lot of casual labour. A proportion of that sector will be self-employed anyway. If you’re self-employed and haven’t got any work, you’re still officially employed.”

Tough says she has not felt the impact of the downturn. But then, she has been in London and working on the Olympics. At 28, she has been scaling tall buildings and trees since university, earning between £140 and £150 a day.

She says she is not too worried about finding work despite the economic climate. “I’d like to think not. You get this kind of work through reputation and there’s a big emphasis on teamwork, so there’s not that much competition in terms of getting jobs.” She reserves her concern for the hazards of the job, admitting there are times she gets scared up there. “In high winds your grip gets a lot tighter,” she says, rather modestly underplaying the dangers.

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John Deere

December 11th, 2012 Comments off

In 1837, John Deere, blacksmith and inventor, had little more than a blacksmith shop, a piece of discarded polished steel, and an idea that would help farmers, changing the face of agriculture for all time.

From that simple plough, we move on to today much more sophisticated equipment, the likes of the John Deere Skid Steer Loader and the John Deere Skid Steers, these high tech machines are manufactured entirely in-house, the Skid Steer Loader is amongst the most feature rich Skid Steers available. Countless operator-requested enhancements make it one of the most sought after Skid Steer Loaders around.

The John Deere range of plant and equipment today, still sports the famous leaping deer logo, albeit in a much different form. Many people aren’t aware that the first trademark using the leaping deer was registered in 1876, although registration papers indicated the mark had been in use for three years prior to this as  John Deere was well established in Moline by this time and the company was producing more than 60,000 plows a year, which were commonly referred to as ‘Moline plows’ because of the factory location. Obviously, there was a need for an official registered trademark, an official trademark was also the only protection against copying and deception. It‘s interesting that the original trademark shows a type of deer common to Africa, but  the native North American white-tailed deer was used in future trademarks. The trademarks were gradually upgraded over the coming years and eventually in the year 2000, the new green and yellow logo that is shown below,  became the standard that we see today.

Over the years the Company has moved into many other markets, GPS equipment being one of the newer ones, under the name Navcom, and like its long history in construction plant and equipment, is again is known for quality and reliability

 

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China to flatten 700 mountains for new metropolis in the desert

December 10th, 2012 Comments off

A long, long time ago, an old Chinese peasant named Yu Gong decided to move two inconveniently located mountains away from blocking the entrance to his home. Legend has it he struggled terribly, but ultimately succeeded. Hence the Chinese idiom “Yu Gong moves the mountains.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Now Chinese developers are putting old Yu to shame.

In what is being billed as the largest “mountain-moving project” in Chinese history, one of China’s biggest construction firms will spend £2.2bn to flatten 700 mountains levelling the area Lanzhou, allowing developers to build a new metropolis on the outskirts of the north-western city.

The Lanzhou New Area, 500 square miles (130,000 hectares) of land 50 miles from the city, which is the provincial capital of arid Gansu province, could increase the region’s gross domestic product to £27bn by 2030,according to the state-run China Daily. It has already attracted almost £7bn of corporate investment.

The project will be China’s fifth “state-level development zone” and the first in the country’s rapidly developing interior, according to state media reports. Others include Shanghai’s Pudong and Tianjin’s Binhai, home to a half-built, 120-building replica of Manhattan. China’s state council, its highest administrative authority, approved the Lanzhou project in August.

The first stage of the mountain-flattening initiative, which was reported on Tuesday by the China Economic Weekly magazine, began in late October and will eventually enable a new urban district almost 10 square miles in size northeast of downtown Lanzhou – a small, but important part of the Lanzhou Nnew area project to be built.

One of the country’s largest private companies: the Nanjing-based China Pacific Construction Group, headed by Yan Jiehe, is behind the initiative. The 52-year-old former teacher is portrayed in China as a sort of home-grown Donald Trump – ultra-ambitious and preternaturally gifted at navigating the country’s vast network of “guanxi”, or personal connections.

Yan was born in the 1960s as the youngest of nine children. After a decade of working as a high-school teacher and cement plant employee, he founded his construction firm in 1995 and amassed a fortune by buying and revamping struggling state-owned enterprises. In 2006 the respected Hu Run report named Yan – then worth about £775m – as China’s second-richest man.

His latest plan has evoked a healthy dose of scepticism. Lanzhou, home to 3.6 million people alongside the silty Yellow River, already has major environmental concerns. Last year the World Health Organisation named it the city with the worst air pollution in China. The city’s main industries include textiles, fertiliser production and metallurgy.

Liu Fuyuan, a former high-level official at the country’s National Development and Reform Commission, told China Economic Weekly that the project was unsuitable because Lanzhou is frequently listed as among China’s most chronically water-scarce municipalities. “The most important thing is to gather people in places where there is water,” he said.

Others also pointed to the financial risk of building a new city in the middle of the desert. “All this investment needs to be paid back with residential land revenue, and I don’t see much on returns in these kinds of cities,” said Tao Ran, an economics professor at Renmin University in Beijing. “If you have a booming real estate market it might work, but it seems to me that real estate in China is very, very risky.”

In an email interview, a China Pacific Construction Group spokeswoman dismissed criticisms of the project as unjustified. “Lanzhou’s environment is already really poor, it’s all desolate mountains which are extremely short of water,” said Angie Wong. “Our protective style of development will divert water to the area, achieve reforestation and make things better than before.”

Yan’s plans could be considered “a protective style of development, and a developmental style of protection”, she said, adding: “I think whether it’s England or America, or any other country, no one will cease development because of resource scarcity caused by geography.”

A promotional video posted on the Lanzhou new area website shows a digitally-rendered cityscape of gleaming skyscrapers and leafy parks. Against a driving operatic score, the camera zooms out from a large government building to reveal features of the area’s imagined urban topography: a clock tower, a new airport, an oil refinery, a light-rail system, and a stadium packed with cheering fans.

The new area “will lead to an environmentally sustainable economy based on energy-saving industries” including advanced equipment manufacturing, petrochemical industries and modern agriculture, wrote Chinese Central Television on its website.

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£200m London school framework out to tender

December 6th, 2012 Comments off

A framework for the building and improvement of 15 schools is up for grabs in west London.

The London Borough of Hillingdon has begun its search for six contractors to upgrade the school network, which could be worth up to £200m over the next four years.

Firms have until 7 January to register their interest at procure4london.com using access code 29HB5FM3PD

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Building a car park that’s safe in the winter

December 5th, 2012 Comments off

While there’s no specific design template for all car parks, it’s essential to build a facility that’s safe to use all year round – including winter. Whether you’re planning a multi-story development in the city, or want to adapt a rural parking space, there are plenty of safety features to think about, including:

A suitable storage area

The weather can take a turn for the worse at any point during the cold snap, so there must be a suitable place for storing rock salt and other winter safety products. This might be a small room where snow shovels, ploughs and liquid ice-melt spreaders can be kept, or it might be a cupboard where lockable grit bins can sit. Whatever the case, equipment of this kind is essential in hazardous conditions and should be stored away correctly.

Flood control measures

If you’re planning to build a car park without a roof, all surface areas should be as flat as possible to avoid puddles gathering in certain bays. Large areas need to be prepared carefully before self-levelling concrete is put down and an appropriate draining system must be installed. Construction workers might also want to think about building off the ground to prevent flooding, or using drop-down flood barriers for underground car parks.

Safety signs

Safety signs should not be an afterthought. They must be incorporated into the design and used to instruct and inform anyone who uses the facility. According to the British Parking Association (BPA), clear and visible signage must be used to identify exits, lifts, stairwells, payment machines, parking zones, levels and other hazards. Temporary winter signs can also come in useful and should be positioned wherever there’s a risk to health.

Adequate lighting

Adequate lighting can reduce people’s fear of crime says the BPA, but it can also help people navigate their way when it’s dark outside. As there are minimal daylight hours during winter, artificial illumination should be used where necessary so people can see where they are going. What’s more, walls and ceilings must have light coloured finishes to reduce the amount of lights needed and maximise their effectiveness.

Everything from keeping grit bins with de-icing salt, to using the right signs can have a big impact on safety, so build all car parks with winter in mind – especially as it gets extremely cold in the UK.

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Planning Minister states we need to build houses on a third more land

December 3rd, 2012 Comments off

New Housing

A third more of the country needs to be developed and a halt has to be made to the construction of “pig ugly” modern housing, the planning minister, Nick Boles, has warned. The remarks will alarm defenders of the British countryside, but Boles insists this expansion is quite possible without building on protected greenbelt land.

Housing has now been identified across the government as possibly the single quickest route to boosting growth, as well as one of the greatest failures in policy for the past 20 years.

The government has announced successive ideas to boost housebuilding, but many of them are long term, or are being held back by complex financing rules. Some cabinet ministers are fighting for an increase in capital investment dedicated to housebuilding in the autumn statement next week.

Boles, seen as a social moderniser in the Tory party, has recently admitted that the government needs to focus rigidly on hard-edged economic issues.

On BBC2’s Newsnight, he says the “right to a home with a little bit of ground around it to bring your family up in” is a basic moral right on a par with a right to education. “We’re going to protect the greenbelt but if people want to have housing for their kids they have got to accept we need to build more on some open land. In the UK and England at the moment we’ve got about 9% of land developed. All we need to do is build on another 2-3% of land and we’ll have solved a housing problem.”

Boles goes on: “The built environment can be more beautiful than nature and we shouldn’t obsess about the fact that the only landscapes that are beautiful are open – sometimes buildings are better.

He says: “I think everyone has the right to live somewhere that is not just affordable but that is beautiful and has some green space nearby.” He calls this “a basic moral right, like healthcare and education. There’s a right to a home with a little bit of ground around it to bring your family up in.”

The problem has been modern housing, which he says is pig ugly. “Land is expensive but to some extent [developers] are just lazy. They didn’t talk to local people or get involved enough. But also it’s just bloody expensive to build because land is expensive.”

Addressing so-called nimbys, Boles says: “It’s my job to make the arguments to these people [people who oppose development] that if they carry on writing letters their kids are never going to get a place with a garden to bring up their grandkids. I accept we haven’t been able to persuade them. I think it would be easier if we could persuade them that the new development would be beautiful.”

Successive planning and housing ministers have called on developers to build more imaginatively, but with little success.

Boles, once a passionate advocate of localism as head of the Policy Exchange thinktank, is now presiding over a shift to a more centralised scheme by allowing developers to appeal to an unelected planning inspectorate if they believe local authorities are requiring them to insert too many affordable homes in their development plans. Legislation will be passed in 2013. In addition, the government is taking powers to fast-track thousands of big residential applications. Developers will be able to opt for their schemes to be put to the planning inspectorate instead of the local authority.

The inspectorate is also being given powers to awards costs against local authorities which wrongly turn down a development, even if the developer has made no appeal for costs.

Local authority planning departments will also be put in special measures if they are seen to be taking too long to make decisions or are subject to too many appeals.

Once the power has been passed to the planning inspectorate, and away from a local authority probably for as long as a year, there will be no appeal against a decision of the inspectorate.

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