Sunday, October 28, 2012

how NOT to boost construction…

So, it seems that the government has come up with another initiative to “cut costs for the construction industry and boost the economy”. This time, ministers have ordered a wide-ranging review covering all aspects of building regulations - including fire safety, wheelchair access and standards on energy efficiency.
In my view (given 30 years plus architectural experience), while SOME simplification of SOME regulations might be helpful, I feel that, once again, the government is missing the point. Self-regulation by the construction industry and changes in building standards will actually do very little to stimulate construction - it will do virtually nothing to encourage clients, developers and contractors to implement projects. At present, it’s really difficult to get speculative commercial and residential schemes to start on site due to the dire economic climate – with job security so uncertain and very little prospect of this changing in the foreseeable future, people are unwilling to commit themselves to new mortgages and, likewise, firms are loathe to take risks due to commercial uncertainty or, indeed, are unable to get banks to lend them money.
THAT is why, for example, the developer for the proposed mixed use scheme just down the road from us (Wapping Wharf in a prime harbourside location, comprising apartments, shops, restaurants, bars and a hotel) is NOT prepared to make a start on site – they don’t want to be faced with the prospect (and the crippling expense) of empty apartments and units at the end of the contract… modifying construction standards will NOT be the reason our local scheme gets built (and, remember, these have been introduced for a purpose, not on a whim, on the basis of vast experience within the industry)!
It seems to me that, with the urgent need for affordable homes throughout the country, it would make far more sense for the government to assist housing associations (ie. provide funding), so that they can get contractors building again.
Clearly, this would require some expenditure by government and, of course, we all know that’s not going to happen!     
PS: You might also recall that the government has recently announced an “emergency” year-long free-for-all in house extensions. In my view, this is a ludicrous step that will a) not increase construction to any worthwhile extent and b) will merely result in an increase number of neighbour disputes (oh, more work for solicitors… silly me!).
Again, a case of the government tinkering in things it doesn’t really understand.    


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