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Employers move on blacklisting demands

March 28th, 2013 Comments off

A new clause is to be inserted into the employment contracts of half a million construction workers to offer them some protection from being blacklisted.

Employers’ representatives on the Construction Industry Joint Council, the industrial agreement, which covers 500,000 construction workers, have bowed to union requests to insert a new clause.

The new anti-blacklisting clause in the CIJC Working Rule Agreement states: “The CIJC does not condone any form of blacklisting of any worker.”

Although the clause does not explicitly forbid the use of employment reference agencies, like the now defunct Consulting Association, union leaders regard it as a significant step.

Ucatt general secretary Steve Murphy, who proposed the new clause, said: “This is a major step forward, blacklisting is a vile and disgusting practice. There must be no hiding place for blacklisters in construction or any other industry.”

Mr Murphy added: “The majority of the major companies responsible for blacklisting follow the CIJC agreement. By inserting this clause we are a further step forward in eradicating blacklisting from our industry for once and for all.”

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Housebuilding sets David Cameron and George Osborne against ‘nimby’ Tories

March 26th, 2013 Comments off

Lge-NewHouse1EBacklash against new homes scheme expected from 8 out of 10 Conservative councillors, who say areas already overdeveloped

David Cameron and George Osborne face a divisive battle with Conservative town halls over their £15bn plan to fuel a housebuilding boom after a new “nimby index” revealed that eight out of 10 Tory councillors believe their areas are already overdeveloped or fine the way they are.

In the wake of the chancellor’s budget announcements aimed at boosting housebuilding, a poll by ComRes revealed that only a quarter of councillors from all parties believe their local areas are underdeveloped, while 87% of the public can be classed as nimbys.

The extent of “not in my back yard” resistance to development emerges in the week that Osborne introduced incentives for developers to build new homes by creating a £3.5bn scheme for interest-free loans to be available to buyers of such properties from next month. Ministers have also relaxed planning rules limiting construction on greenfield sites.

There was further bad news for Osborne when a second credit ratings agency, Fitch, served notice that it was almost certain to strip the UK of its AAA credit rating. Last month, Moody’s was the first agency to cut the country’s rating after sluggish economic growth and increased near-term government borrowing.

The Lincolnshire constituency of the combative planning minister, Nick Boles, who once suggested building on 2%-3% of Britain’s currently open land, represents one part of the emerging conflict between local and national politics. A plan to build 7,000 new homes in Grantham was agreed in 2010 but the first 50 to 70 will not be completed until spring 2014. The council has also missed the target Boles set for finding sites amid widespread public opposition.

Nationally, Tory council leaders have complained to Boles about housing targets that are “out of scale” and fear defeat at the polls if they are forced to build against their electors’ wishes. Conservative-controlled Stratford-on-Avon council will take the government to the high court in the summer over its decision to overrule the council’s refusal of an 800-home development on fields close to the cottage of Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway.

“We understand the scale of development that our communities can absorb, and they don’t,” said Chris Saint, the Tory council leader. “If you put big estates into small communities you either create a soulless dormitory or sink estates of the kind that successive governments have struggled to disentangle. I do not want that to be my legacy.”

ComRes, which polled more than 400 councillors nationwide, found that 83% believed their areas were already overdeveloped. Of Liberal Democrat councillors polled, 84% said their areas were overdeveloped or fine as they were. The figure for Labour was 59%.

People living in south-west England, West Midlands and Scotland appear most resistant to development, while Wales and the north-east are least opposed. And 90% of the suburban public surveyed were classed as nimbys, compared with 88% in the countryside and 83% in urban areas.

The survey’s sponsor, Development Intelligence – which has lobbied for clients including the housebuilder Countryside Properties and the commercial developer Hammerson – said the findings indicated “a complete disconnect as neither public nor councillors understand that development creates growth and jobs”.

Nick Keable, its chief executive, said: “We support the government’s pro-development policy, but they have no idea how to implement it in a nimby nation. Negativity about development is driven by the haves, not the have-nots. Where there is deprivation and high unemployment people are more positively disposed than they are in the leafy, suburban south-east.”

The number of households is expected to grow by an average of 232,000 a year in the next two decades, but just 146,420 homes were built in the last financial year. Boles has accused councils of dragging their feet in allocating sites and this week told developers he wanted to “flush out” areas that did not offer up enough land.

He declined the Guardian’s requests to comment but Bob Neill, former planning minister and now deputy chairman of the Conservative party, responded by attacking Development Intelligence as “shadowy development lobbyists” and said the survey was “a crude attempt … to smear local councillors who stand up for local residents”. He added: “Conservatives control far more rural and shire councils than other parties, so it is no surprise that Conservative councillors value environmental safeguards.”

Keable responded: “They have attacked the man, not the ball, because this is an inconvenient truth for the government.”

Boles’s own constituency, Grantham and Stamford, illustrates the conflict between national and local Tories. “It is not the answer to build our way out of recession,” said Jacky Smith, 70, a member of the council’s planning committee. “If we are not careful, we may end up building far too many homes and looking back in 10 years and thinking, why on earth did we do that?”

Meanwhile, the town’s young people are struggling to find a place to live. Aaron Foster, 20, a motorcycle shop worker, and his girlfriend, Beth McErlean, 19, an unemployed childminder, said they were considering moving away because of the lack of affordable homes.

“A one- or two-bedroom flat or house would be around £120,000 and you won’t find anywhere like that in a reasonable area,” said Foster. “Leasing feels like throwing money away, but to buy there is no real help to get a deposit down. It sounds funny, but people are having children just to get a house [through the social housing system].”

“This nimbyism is causing a breakdown,” said Karl Hicks, managing director of Larkfkleet Homes, the developer that proposed the homes at the village of Manthorpe in Boles’s constituency. “If you have a council member living in the immediate area where you have a scheme, you rarely get your scheme through.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The government is committed to removing top-down targets that built nothing but resentment. Local plans agreed by communities and councils are now at the heart of determining where homes should go. Nearly nine in 10 planning applications are approved, a 10-year high, and seven out of 10 local councils now have published local plans.”

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Budget 2013: chancellor pledges extra £3bn for infrastructure projects

March 25th, 2013 Comments off

IMG_4044 (Mobile)Additional funds will come from cuts to departmental budgets, says Osborne, but does not indicate where money will be spent

The government unveiled another attempt to kickstart infrastructure investment with a commitment to spend an extra £3bn a year, but gave little indication where the money would be spent.

The additional funds for capital investment will be found from cuts to government departmental budgets, George Osborne said, and will be available from 2015-16.

Business and industry observers questioned whether the boost was sufficient and warned that past budget pledges on infrastructure failed to materialise into concrete projects.

Osborne said the government was “already supporting the largest investment in railways since Victorian times and spending more on new roads than in a generation”.

He said he would boost spending by £3bn from 2015-16 with the money saved from departmental budgets, amounting to at least £15bn of extra capital spending over the rest of the decade.

Osborne said: “By investing in the arteries we will get growth flowing to every part of the country.”

John Cridland, director general of the CBI, said the business lobby group’s call for an increase in longer-term infrastructure spending had been heeded: “This was recognition it was a mistake to cut capital spending so sharply and that other growth-boosting measures were taking too long.”

However, industry experts said the “proof of the pudding” was nowhere to be seen. Nick Prior, head of infrastructure and capital projects at Deloitte said: “While the £3bn is welcome, there is no indication at all of where it’s going to be spent. Given the track record over the last three years of delivering against commitments, one has to be extremely cautious about the impact this will have.

“There has been a lot of rhetoric over infrastructure spend over the last three years, but delivery has fallen well short of the promises.”

Kate Orviss, infrastructure partner at Pinsent Masons, said: “The disappointment is that this funding will not be available until 2015-16 and there is a complete lack of clarity over what it will be spent on. The government claims to see infrastructure as a key element of its growth strategy but has singularly and repeatedly failed to deliver in budget after budget.”

Richard Threlfall, UK head of infrastructure at KPMG, said the budget was disappointing and the £3bn would “make little difference in solving the UK’s infrastructure challenge”.

The Department for Transport has been pushing for further rail schemes in addition to spending on Crossrail, Thameslink and electrification projects.

One infrastructure project that will finally get under way is the delayed £150m scheme to bring mobile phone coverage to hundreds of rural not-spots. A contractor is due to be appointed in May to put up new masts in rural areas not yet on the mobile grid.

The mobile infrastructure project was announced in 2011 and originally due to go live in early 2013. But it was delayed after Three, the UK’s smallest mobile network, withdrew its support. In an update published alongside the budget, the Treasury said the service would now see the first sites “operational in 2013” with “the aim of completion by 2015”.

Critics have been calling for pledges on capital investment to be translated into swift action in “shovel-ready” projects.

Analysis by the Guardian found that fewer than a quarter of the government’s hundreds of national infrastructure projects, including road, rail and energy schemes, would be completed during this parliament.

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iWireless Solutions Extends its Business Reach into Multiple Sectors with Four New Projects

March 21st, 2013 Comments off

London, UK-  19 March 2013 – iWireless Solutions, one of the UK’s leading providers of sophisticated InBuilding wireless systems, today announced it has won several projects across multiple industries, including transport, public sector, property development and telecommunications. The projects comprise of both national and global companies including:

  • Telefonica Digital: A global telecommunications giant, engaged iWireless Solutions to design and build a new mobile wireless system in its new Air Street headquarters in the heart of London. The services provided included LTE ready, voice and data solutions that enhanced wireless connectivity throughout the offices, increasing business processes’ efficiency and overall productivity.
  • Berkeley: Formerly Berkeley Homes, one of the UK’s best known developers of new homes, turned to iWireless Solutions to design and build a multi-operator wireless coverage solution for its staff and contractors onsite. The solution, a backhaul free wireless repeater and an associated distributed antenna system, allows for increased efficiency and enhanced communications at the prestigious new St Edwards development in Kensington.
  • Durham County and Darlington Fire and Rescue Headquarters: Appointed iWireless Solutions to implement a cost-effective, multi-operator solution to provide mobile wireless coverage throughout their new complex.
  • British Airways (BA): iWireless Solutions were appointed to validate a third party Indoor wireless system at British Airways Waterside headquarters in London. The project included benchmark testing which includes coverage and performance assessment to ensure compliance with the Joint Operator Technical Specification (JOT’s).

Across all the projects, iWireless Solutions was able to meet the client requirements for a cost-effective solution that enables efficient wireless connectivity indoors and improved communications.

Ravi Mondair, Managing Director at iWireless Solutions explained: “We provide tailored InBuilding wireless solutions and services that allow businesses across all industries to enhance connectivity, for increased efficiency, ensuring they remain competitive and are able to meet the digital data traffic demands. The upsurge in sales of mobile smart devices such as smartphones and tablets, coupled with the need for anytime, anywhere access to information has resulted in businesses increasingly looking to deploy flexible wireless infrastructures. These projects not only help us achieve our business objectives in terms of increased revenue, but also showcase our expertise in the varied industries.”

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The Shams concentrated solar energy plant has opened in Abu Dhabi’s western region.

March 20th, 2013 Comments off

1363524327_18mar13-solarplant-shams1Shams 1 is the largest concentrated solar power plant (CSP) in the world. It will produce 100MW of power, sufficient to provide energy to about 20,000 homes.

It covers an area of 2.5km2 – or 285 football fields – and features more than 258,000 mirrors mounted on 768 tracking parabolic trough collectors. By concentrating heat from direct sunlight onto oil-filled pipes, Shams 1produces steam, which drives a turbine and generates electricity. The project uses a booster heater to heat steam as it enters the turbine, dramatically boosting the cycle’s efficiency. Shams 1 also features a dry-cooling system that significantly reduces water consumption – a critical advantage in the arid desert.

President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan described it as an “outstanding achievement” in terms of the UAE’s aim of diversifying its economy and sources of energy.

“The inauguration of Shams 1 is a major milestone in our country’s economic diversification and a step toward long-term energy security,” he added.

He expressed his pride at the young Emiratis who had worked on the project, saying that the expertise they gained, through working closely with international companies on building a project of such scale, is the type of development of the country’s human capital that will enable it to secure its long-term leadership in the energy field.

“With the demand for energy rising exponentially, the region is undergoing a major transformation in how it generates electricity,” said Masdar CEO Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who is also a minister of state. “In fact, the Middle East is poised for major investments in renewables, and Shams 1 proves the economic and environmental advantage of deploying large-scale solar projects.”

Shams 1 was designed and developed by Shams Power Company, a joint venture between Masdar (60%), Total (20%) and Abengoa Solar (20%). With the opening of Shams 1, Masdar’s renewable energy portfolio accounts for almost 68% of the Gulf’s renewable energy capacity and close to 10% of the world’s installed CSP capacity.

The CSP project reduces the UAE’s carbon emissions, displacing approximately 175,000t of CO2 per year, equivalent to planting 1.5 million trees, or taking 15,000 cars off the road. With solar power generated during peak demand, the UAE can reduce its need for “peak shaving” generators, which are expensive and idle most of the year.

“As a long-lasting partner of Abu Dhabi, we are particularly proud to have been part of the challenging adventure that was Shams 1 construction. This is a major step in the process of transforming the capabilities of solar power in the region,” said Christophe de Margerie, chairman and CEO of Total. “We share Abu Dhabi’s vision that renewables have a promising future alongside fossil energies. Total is today a world leader in solar industry. As such, we are pleased to accompany the Emirate in the diversification of its energy mix.”

“The Middle East holds nearly half of the world’s renewable energy potential,” said Santiago Seage, CEO of Abengoa Solar. “The abundance of solar energy is an opportunity to integrate sustainable, clean sources of power that address energy security and climate change. The region needs more projects like Shams 1, and we look forward to pushing the boundaries of future energy.”

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Off-site construction specialist Yorkon has been awarded its largest ever building project.

March 19th, 2013 Comments off

The £17.9m contract is for a new Women & Children’s Centre at North Middlesex University Hospital, working to main contractor Kier.

Due for completion later this year, the scheme is part of a reorganisation of hospital services in the boroughs of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey. Architect and project manager is AHP.

The project, which was procured under the ProCure21+ framework, is being built off site at the Yorkon production centre in York. The project managers expect this approach to reduce disruption to patient care and to ensure the build programme is finished before the busy winter period.

The building will provide a larger consultant-led delivery unit with additional high dependency beds, two new obstetrics theatres, a neonatal unit, triage centre, women’s outpatient department, a midwife-led birthing unit with four birthing pool rooms, a postnatal ward with discharge lounge, and a transitional care unit to support neonatal care.   A roof-top plant room will be located on the second floor.

The scheme will be constructed using the new Yorkon off-site building system and will comprise 152 steel-framed modules up to 18m long and in many different sizes and configurations to suit the building’s design and site.  The units will be craned into position with doors, windows, first fix electrics and plumbing, and a concrete floor all pre-installed.

Yorkon director Simon Ambler said: “This is our largest ever contract and its complexities demonstrate just what is now achievable with an advanced off-site building system.”

Kier Construction project manager Clive Watson said: “The biggest advantage of off-site construction on this project is speed. We anticipate it will reduce the delivery time by around three months enabling us to have the new facilities up and running ahead of the busy winter period. It will also bring quality benefits because it allows so much of the construction to take place off site in a controlled factory environment that is not affected by poor weather conditions. Our experience with Yorkon and their level of engagement from the outset has been very positive to date.”

The new building will have rendered façades, ribbon glazing around the perimeter of the first floor and a large atrium entrance spanning two storeys, with light wells providing further daylight inside. There is also full height glazing to the stair towers on each of the two wings

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Flatpack or flexible? Oscar Niemeyer’s schools could have lessons for the UK

March 18th, 2013 Comments off

baseline-guidanceFrom now on, our children will be taught in flatpack sheds and converted kebab shops. That’s the message education secretary Michael Gove has been sending out since he launched his two-pronged vision for schools: to be built from standardised kits, or else to “pop up” in whatever redundant high street unit might be to hand.

Triumphantly axing Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, accusing architects of “creaming off cash” and declaring that “we won’t be getting any award-winning architects to design your school”, Gove seemed to take on the appearance of a surreal pantomime baddie, continually bashing the profession.

Issuing Dickensian diktats about the future of education, his no-frills approach to school building almost descended into farce with the James Review, in which he commissioned an expert in cheap, mass-produced retail sheds to advise on the kinds of spaces that might be good for teaching and learning: big cheap sheds was the inevitable conclusion.

But by waging war on architects – and provoking their body, the RIBA, into waging it back – both Gove and his opponents have obscured the debate we should be having: about what “standardisation” actually means. Properly developed, with the involvement of architects, might system building actually be a good thing?

Much confusion has come from the government’s own uncertainty about the right way forward. The bold call of the James Review for standardised designs, which prompted excited contractors to begin developing cheap flatpack kits, was soon sidelined in favour of “baseline” guidance. Launched in October last year, this specified that schools “should be simple rectilinear forms”, 15% smaller than those under BSF, and built for £1,465 per square metre (half the price of most BSFs).

The RIBA slammed the “flatpack” approach as “far too restrictive” and warned that it would “place a straitjacket on future generations of teaching professionals and quickly render these schools redundant”. It claimed that the guidance showed no regard for student wellbeing, environmental comfort, accessibility or long-term sustainability.

One of the first contractors to attempt to prove them wrong was Wilmott Dixon, whose Sunesis system – which received glowing Design Council endorsement – can allegedly reduce the cost of a new school by up to 30%, and cut the build programme by about 20 weeks. Featuring “central learning streets” and “flexible teaching spaces”, it does nonetheless look like a shed, and there would be difficulty adapting it to awkward, sloping sites. So is there another way?

Architects David Chambers and Kevin Haley, of young practice Aberrant, think that there might be – and have been looking to Brazil for answers. As part of the British Council’s Venice Takeaway exhibition at the RIBA, Chambers and Haley travelled to Rio de Janeiro to investigate a little-known programme of standardised school building in the 1980s, which left more than 500 system-built schools across the state – designed by none other than Oscar Niemeyer.

The Integrated Centres of Public Education (CIEPs) were a response to an educational crisis, as mass migration from the countryside swelled the urban population. With a pressing need to create a vast number of schools in as short a time as possible, the state governors turned to Niemeyer, who developed a system based on a simple kit of concrete parts, and oversaw the establishment of a centralised factory for prefabrication.

“While criticism of standard systems in the UK has tended to focus on the desire to strip out as much of the ‘architecture’ as possible, we were fascinated to find that standardisation in Brazil was driven by a focus on extending the reach of high-quality architecture to everyone,” says Chambers.

The schools were designed as clusters of separate buildings, “like a concentration of a city,” according to Washington Fajardo, president of the Rio World Heritage Institute. “You have the basic building, and then you have a series of associate buildings: an outdoor covered sports hall, an octagon-shaped library and a house on the roof for live-in pupils.”

These buildings could be configured in different ways according to the site, making it the ultimate flexible system – adapting to hillsides, city squares and leftover spaces next to major roads. But in all cases, the school stood as a proud civic beacon, designed with an emphatic, graphic presence.

“The CIEPs were often in poorer areas, such as favelas and beach towns, where there wasn’t a lot of public infrastructure, so they took on a bigger civic role,” says Chambers. “The covered playgrounds, for example, became vital public squares. It was crucial that they operated beyond the role of being a school: the whole programme was about using architecture to symbolise a new educational philosophy.”

In attempting to launch a future of standardised schools in the UK, just what kind of educational philosophy is Gove trying to promote, and how might he learn from Brazil?

 

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One man’s eight-year effort to build a wooden ship by hand

March 14th, 2013 Comments off

Over the past eight years Eaton has devoted much of his life to building the vessel by hand, with scores of volunteers helping along the way.

The project started off as a rough idea – Mr Eaton’s parents would buy the lumber and he would provide the labour. None of them could foresee how consuming the boat would become.

But building a boat was only part of the plan.

Eaton and his parents hope to sail it across the Atlantic Ocean and end up somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.

The project is a labour of love and the latest subject of the BBC’s Big Dreams series.

Source with video

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Specialist contractors welcome EU fair payment legislation

March 12th, 2013 Comments off

The National Specialist Contractors’ Council (NSCC) has welcomed the introduction of a new EU directive that will see the principles of fair payment set out in the NSCC Fair Payment Campaign extended throughout Europe.

The National Specialist Contractors’ Council (NSCC) has welcomed the introduction of a new EU directive that will see the principles of fair payment set out in the NSCC Fair Payment Campaign extended throughout Europe.

The government has recently responded to a consultation it undertook last year on implementing legislation to tackle late payment by businesses and public authorities across all EU member states. It has confirmed that the directive will be implemented into UK law on 16 March 2013, with contracts concluded before this date excluded from the amended provisions to avoid businesses having to make amendments to existing contracts.

The position taken by UK government reflects the response submitted by NSCC in support of the main proposals including maintaining 30-day payment terms for public sector projects as opposed to stretching them to 60 days. Having recognised current UK practice as an exemplar, the directive effectively mirrors existing UK provisions to extend it across the EU. The Late Payment of Commercial Debts Act will be amended to transpose the requirements of the directive although the current three-tier charge for recovering debts will be retained.

NSCC chief executive Suzannah Nichol said: “We are delighted that the government has supported the new directive which marks another significant step towards realising the principles of the Fair Payment Campaign. The UK government is leading the way on fair payment and the new legislation will help SMEs in the construction industry to get paid on time across the EU, which will have a positive impact on the economy.”

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Plant hirer banned for tax dodging

March 11th, 2013 Comments off

1362725976_insolvency-serviceGary Stephen Emerick, director of general construction and civil engineering company, Hire & Mechanical Services Ltd, based in Canvey Island, Essex, has been disqualified for four years for failing to pay tax.

 

The disqualification follows an investigation by The Insolvency Service.

Mr Emerick, 55, of Canvey Island, Essex has had to give an undertaking to the secretary of state for business, innovation and skills, that he will not act as a director of a limited company until March 2017.

Hire & Mechanical Services Ltd, whose principal activity was construction equipment and tool hire and groundworking, went into liquidation on 27 June 2011 owing more than £527,000 to creditors, including £360,872 owed to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in unpaid tax. Almost half of this was undeclared VAT.

The Insolvency Service investigation showed that the company’s unpaid taxes dated all the way back to when it started trading in May 2009. During its two years of trading, the company paid just £47,246 in tax, which was a fraction of what it owed.

Mark Bruce, a chief examiner at The Insolvency Service said: “Directors who seek an unfair advantage over their competitors by not paying tax are damaging commercial confidence and harming the UK’s reputation as a place to do business. They should not expect to get away with it.

“Other directors tempted to follow this path should remember that if they run a business in a way that is detrimental to either its customers or its creditors they lose the protection afforded by limited liability. The Insolvency Service will investigate them and seek to remove them from the business environment.”

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