We’re committed at Homebuilding & Renovating to keeping you informed of anything that matters in the world of self build, home renovation and construction. Because, while this current crisis is anything but usual, we’re sure that you, our community of homeowners looking to create their dream home, and tradespeople, designers and builders, will find a way to keep on building – in whatever format.
Check back here regularly for updates of essential news, merchant openings (and closing), and find out what everyone else is doing to make the best of all this.
Government Letter to the Construction Sector
The Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, has written an open letter to the construction industry.
The letter, published today, pays tribute to the industry for its ongoing role in creating the infrastructure required to help fight the Coronavirus crisis, and in supporting the economy.
‘You are delivering for our Nation through this difficult time’
The letter confirms that work may continue on building sites but must do so in accordance with an industry-developed SOP (standard operating procedure), published by Construction Leadership Council.
Last week, Co-Chair of Construction Leadership Council, Andy Mitchell, also advised: “If an activity cannot be undertaken safely due to a lack of suitably qualified personnel being available, or social distancing being implemented, it should not take place.”
The full letter can be read here:
Coronavirus (COVID-19): letter to the construction sector
To everyone working in the UK’s construction sector,
In these challenging times, I want to pay tribute to all those who are working tirelessly within the construction industry. Delivering on large or small construction sites across the country, in builders’ merchants and logistics providers, or producing construction and mineral products.
Our country and our economy needs all our support. And the construction industry has answered the call to action. Whether by building temporary hospital wards, installing complex and life-saving oxygen systems, constructing the infrastructure that society needs to function or ensuring that people have safe and healthy homes to live in, you are delivering for our Nation through this difficult time. My heartfelt and personal thanks for everything that each and every one of you is doing to support our joint national effort.
The Government has advised that wherever possible, people should work at home. However, we know that for many people working in construction their job requires them to travel to their place of work, and they can continue to do so. This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice.
To help ensure that it is safe for you to operate in your workplace, the industry has worked to develop Site Operating Procedures (SOP), which were published by the Construction Leadership Council. These align with the latest guidance from Public Health England. As this health guidance updates, the SOP will reflect any changes.
I am in regular contact with industry leaders about the developing situation that faces the sector. And I am fully committed to continuing to engage through the coming days, weeks and beyond.
Thank you again to everyone operating in the UK construction sector. You are making a hugely valued and critical contribution to the resilience of our Nation and I salute you for the enormous efforts you are individually undertaking to support the UK economy.
THE RT HON ALOK SHARMA MP
Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
Virtual planning committee meetings authorised in government first
For the first time, the government has passed legislation allowing planning committees to temporarily take place via virtual platforms, in response to the Coronavirus crisis.
Prior to the change, under the 1972 Local Government Act, councillors had to be present in the same place in order to pass decisions.
In a Planning Update Newsletter, addressed to local authorities, Chief Planner, Steve Quartermain CBE, stated: ‘We understand that some councils are concerned about the implications of COVID19 for their capacity to process planning applications within statutory timescales.
“The Government has confirmed that it will introduce legislation to allow council committee meetings to be held virtually for a temporary period, which we expect will allow planning committees to continue.”
The new legislation, although subject to review, allows council committee meetings to be held virtually until 7 May 2021.
In the same Newsletter, Steve Quartermain also stated: ‘We recognise that there may be circumstances where a local planning authority is unable to consider a permitted development prior approval application within the deemed consent period. It remains important to prioritise these so important economic activity can continue. In these exceptional circumstances the authority can, if necessary, seek to agree an extended approval date with the applicant.’
31 March 2020 10.45
Latest stats reveal last quarter’s new build completions were the highest since 1989
Somewhat ironically, the latest stats from the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government have revealed that the number of new house completions were up. The most recent, quarter four 2019 figures reveal that 49,590 homes were completed in the three-month period — the most of any quarter since 1989.
The 2019 year finished on 169,020 homes built, the biggest annual figure since 2007.
Co-founder of Properganda and property expert, Russell Quirk, commented: “At last, the government and the nation’s housebuilders have started to deliver on the rhetoric of the last few years, getting close to achieving something like the numbers that the country needs. Each year since 2012 has seen a steady climb and the latest figures show the biggest increase since the Berlin Wall was toppled.
“Unfortunately, having dusted themselves down from the wounds inflicted by Brexit, this upward trend will now surely be interrupted by the current Coronavirus crisis.
“That said, we should take solace that once this is also behind us, normal service and building, I’m sure, will resume in earnest.”
RICS announce low value construcion adjudication service
In wider construction industry news, RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) has launched an adjudication service in an effort to ease cashflow for small and medium-sized construction companies during this period.
RICS has begun providing a low value construction adjudication service to give UK SMEs a simple and cost-effective procedure that will make solving disputes more accessible and quicker for lower value claims.
The service is aimed at disputes where the amounts claimed are for £50,000 or less, and the issues in dispute are relatively uncomplicated.
In the light of the impact of the coronavirus on the industry, there is a renewed call for an easy to use method. RICS have set up a high-quality panel of RICS adjudicators who have been trained to deliver the service.
“This new, more transparent process will offer access to justice for small and medium sized companies in the construction industry — helping to ensure small disputes are resolved quickly, cheaply and effectively,” said Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi.
Does Coronavirus Count as a Force Majeure?
JCT Design and Build contracts are commonly used in construction projects, and feature a clause regarding ‘force majeure’ – an unforeseeable circumstance that prevent a contract from being fulfilled.
In order to be classed as a force majeure, the event must not have been foreseeable at the time of signing the contract, and it must be the sole cause of non-performance.
30 March 2020 08.56
People Advised Not to Move House
The government has urged people not to move house while lockdown measures are in place, and instead aim to agree alternative dates to move. This is to not only help limit the spread of coronavirus, but to provide time to answer concerns about how the pandemic might affect house valuations and, given the current economic uncertainty, the granting of mortgages.
Even if the property you are moving to is vacant, you will still need consider the physical act of moving. Some removal firms may not be working, and if they are it is imperative that social distancing guidelines are followed.
Right, those are your major updates for the week. We’ll be back on Monday providing the latest news on how coronavirus is affecting the construction industry.
Of course, you can use this time wisely if you’re planning home improvements. Read this brilliant article on the most cost-effective home improvements to plan while on lockdown.
40% Increase in Door Sales
Self-isolation may limit how often we can walk out the front door, but it’s not stopping people from buying doors that better suit their tastes.
Door specialist OnlineDoorStore.co.uk has seen a 40% spike in sales over the past few weeks. And to assist those in the market, they offer the following tips:
- While glazed units improve light levels and allow you to steal space from adjoining rooms, solid doors create stronger barriers between spaces and aid with privacy, insulation and noise control. Consider how your family uses your home and whether you need to increase natural light levels
- Consider the placement of your doors. If you choose to hang your doors so that they open into a room, will there be enough space for your furniture? Those with narrow corridors or tight lounges will need to consider this carefully. Also, will the door be hung on the left or the right, and will this allow enough space for full capacity opening?
Housing Market Freeze
After concerns that coronavirus would affect house prices, the government has announced that it will in effect suspend the property market.
As a result, estate agents will not be able to market new homes and visits to houses already for sale will be banned. What this means is that there is now essentially a complete freeze on the UK housing market, which the government said had to be done to avoid breaking social distancing rules.
The government’s advice is as follows:
- Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19).
- Our advice is that if you have already exchanged contracts and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
- If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.
- In line with government’s advice, anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. All parties should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group.
What is ‘Essential’ Construction?
The Construction Industry Council (CIC) has outlined a list of construction that it deems to be ‘essential’
Graham Watts, chief executive of the CIC, says in a blog post it would be “incredibly dangerous for all construction sites to close; but it is also incredibly dangerous for all construction sites to remain open.
Watts argues that construction sites should only remain open if the work is critical and work can only continue if:
- It can be carried out under the guidance issued by Public Health England;
- It can be undertaken without compromising safety and health;
- It is carried out in accordance with the Site Operating Procedure published earlier;
- Workers can travel safely and responsibly to sites.
Reduce Your Bills During Lockdown
We’ve just had this in from Izzy Schulman, director at Plumbers4U, who has advice on how to be energy efficient and lower your household bills during the lockdown.
Check Your Thermostat
One of the simplest and easiest ways to be more efficient when your heating is on is to check your thermostat isn’t blocked by furniture or curtains. This limits airflow around your thermostat, so it won’t be recording your home’s room temperature accurately.
Make sure it’s not close to a source of heating either – like a radiator or oven – as this can also stop your thermostat from making correct readings.
Look at Your Insulation
Installing good quality insulation will help your home retain heat and reduce the energy needed to keep it warmer for longer. For example; laying loft insulation to a thickness of 270mm in a typical non-insulated three-bedroom semi and insulating the cavity walls could save you up to £270 a year.
(MORE: Insulating a Loft: A Beginner’s Guide)
Start setting boiler timers for when you need heat, like before you wake up or for when you get home.
Having your boiler only turn on when you need it can save you upwards of £80 and reduce emissions by 320kg of carbon dioxide a year.
When you do decide to switch on your heating, consider getting smart controls installed. So, you can control your heating remotely and even adjust it according to the weather outside.
CITB Suspends Levy Payments for Three Months
There was also big news last night for the wider construction industry. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) announced it will suspend its levy for bills due for payment in 2020, for an initial period of three months.
Bills due for payment will subsequently be issued for the full year, which the CITB hopes will provide immediate financial relief to construction firms. Levy bills are usually due for payment in May, but the CITB will not seek collection on these suspended bills until August, or later if possible.
Government’s Housebuilding Plans ‘Virtually Impossible’
Worrying news for housebuilding in the UK: the government’s target to build a million homes in the next five years has been described as ‘virtually impossible‘ following the reveal of new data.
Housebuilding rates in England have fallen further below government targets, with just 178,000 new build completions in 2019. And this is before the impact of coronavirus has taken its toll,
While the 44,980 new build completions during the final three months of 2019 marked a 3% increase than a year prior, the government remains behind on its homebuilding targets.
While it will likely be some time before we see the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the economy, the housing sector has already experienced turmoil.
27 March 2020 08.50
Chancellor Announces Self-Employment Grant
Thursday night ended with the news many in the construction industry had been hoping for. Chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed that the government is offering to pay self-employed construction workers a grant of 80% of average monthly profits over the last three years. This will be capped at £2,500.
The Self-employed Income Support Scheme will be open for millions of self-employed workers, many of whom are construction workers, and will provide direct cash grants to support them during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.
People will be able to access the scheme no later than the beginning of June and HMRC will contact those who are eligible. Until then, workers are being encouraged to apply for Universal Credit to support them for the next two months.
The news was welcomed by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “Construction workers across the country will now be taking a collective sigh of relief knowing they will now be protected in the same way that employees will be if they lose work due to Covid-19.
Hew Edgar, Head of Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) UK Government Relations & City Strategy, also embraced the chancellor’s announcement.
“Our self-employed members, surveyors working up and down the country, were telling us of their concern and worry about the lack of support for their businesses. However, the Chancellor’s announcement today – allowing them to access grants of up to £2,500 based on reported profits – now changes that completely.
“There are thousands of self-employed professionals in the built environment, who are just as vital to our economy as SME and large business, so this support will ensure then can continue to operate and contribute to the wider economy now and after this virus has been beaten.”
The National Custom and Self Build Association has tweeted its support for builders still working on projects across the UK.
DIY-savvy Brits may be relishing the prospect of doing their own jobs for a while, but for millennials, the return of tradespeople can’t come quickly enough.
Tradesmen directory MyJobQuote.co.uk surveyed 1,073 millennials in the UK about how confident they felt doing their own DIY jobs. Millennials, look away now.
Respondents could not identify eight out of 15 tools on average, and a review of Google Trends over the last 24 hours revealed that asking whether DIY stores are staying open during lockdown have increased by 3,000%.
While doing your own DIY can save costs, it’s important to only commit to DIY projects you are confident and experienced in, and know what to leave to the professionals.
Construction News is reporting that it has seen an email from a senior prime ministerial adviser which says the government is not closing construction sites nor is it encouraging them to.
Fears for construction workers at build sites has been raised by many, but not so much fears for employers. Now, Forbes’ legal experts say closing construction sites could protect employers just as much as workers.
David Mayor, an associate in the insurance law team at Forbes Solicitors, added: “The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) are underpinned by the need to identify and control site hazards, avoiding or reducing risk where possible.
“It will be difficult for government guidance to be wholly observed and if it ends-up actually increasing risk, employees could reasonably claim a breach of the Regulations or other health and safety legislation. This is a needless and avoidable scenario for both employers and workers.”
Underpinning the concern for construction workers is that social distancing is difficult and impractical to enforce on some build sites.
60% of Builders Cease Work
More than half (60%) of builders have stopped between 76% and 100% of their work, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) this morning, which says only emergency and critical construction work should be allowed to continue.
Furthermore, the FMB says around two-thirds of its members believe the government is not doing enough to support, citing the safety concerns now being commonly raised over travelling to and working on build sites.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “Most FMB members have already taken the lead and ceased the majority of their work. It is almost impossible to follow Public Health England’s social distancing advice on many sites, and it would therefore be safer to close them.”
Berry concluded: “No one should have to choose between feeding their family and protecting their health and yet that is the position many builders currently find themselves in.”
The FMB has also pushed for chancellor Rishi Sunak to support self-employed builders equally as well as those on PAYE. The government has been challenged for days to provide a financial support package for self-employed workers, many of whom are builders.
Interest in Extensions Soars by 20%
Inquiries for extensions, garden rooms and home offices have risen by a fifth in the last week, according to modular house-builder Built & Spaces, as more of us realise we need more space if we’re going to be homebound for several weeks.
Steve Wilkie, Director of Built & Spaces, said: “People are suddenly working from home, looking around and they’re thinking, ‘I need more space.’ Homeowners might have been thinking about extending their house for years, but now they’ve got time to do something about it.”
Parents were reported as fielding the most enquiries, with parents across the UK trying to juggle work commitments with their children being off school.
(MORE: Coronavirus: Keep Busy at Home With These Easy Home Improvement Projects)
26 March 2020 08.50
Welcome back to Building as Usual’s (BAU) live updates on how the lockdown is affecting the homebuilding industry.
Wednesday saw Boris Johnson defend the decision to keep build sites open, despite the risks posed by the spreading coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic and mounting clamour for the government to protect builders, many of whom had been seen cramming into London Tubes to get to work.
Given the uncertainty over which build sites should remain open, the Construction Leadership Council sought to provide clarity by issuing guidance to the construction industry, urging employers to use their common sense when managing live projects and ensuring that employees can follow the government’s guidance and practice safe social distancing on site.
Meanwhile Selco announced that it will cease trading for three weeks. But Jewson, Travis Perkins, Screwfix and Toolstation are among the builders merchants still operational in some capacity, albeit only through delivery services.
It was quite the day. Stay with us throughout this beautifully sunny Thursday for the latest news and updates relating to your building projects and the wider construction industry.
How to Protect Your Build Site
We’ve just had this in from Self Build Zone managing director Paul Kempton, who recommends self builders adopt a gamut of measures to protect their build site from more than coronavirus.
“In times such as these the main problems outside of your control are going to probably be theft and arson,” says Kempton.
Making a Valuable Contribution
This tweet from Paul Fasham serves to raise awareness of how everyday people can make a valuable contribution during these unprecedented times.
Johnson Rebuffs Construction Fears
Departing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took aim at Boris Johnson’s policy over build sites in Mr Corbyn’s last-ever Prime Minister’s Questions, asking: “Can the Prime Minister be absolutely clear that construction work on non-emergency work should stop now?”
Somewhat predictably, the Prime Minister remained stoic. Mr Johnson said people should work at home “unless they must go to work” to keep the economy afloat, and reiterated the need for social distancing.
For now, no change regarding the government’s stance.
Advice Issued for Heating Engineers
The Heating & Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC) has issued updated advice to heating engineers, based on daily changing government recommendations.
Engineers are still working nationwide, and must maintain a 2m distance from any household occupants to ensure everyone’s safety.
Additionally, HHIC says: “No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so. In such cases, Public Health England can provide advice to tradespeople and households.”
Khan Challenges Johnson
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is leading the demand for government action with regards to build sites. The Prime Minister can expect quite the outcry during Prime Minister’s Questions, which has just begun in the House of Commons.
Johnson Under Pressure to Close Build Sites
The government is facing calls to close build sites as fears escalate about ensuring safety at building sites and preventing the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).
Many construction workers were seen on packed London Tubes yesterday attending build sites, and as Boris Johnson appears before MPs today for Prime Minister’s Questions, he is under growing pressure to halt non-essential construction work.
Mr Johnson is also facing calls to provide a financial support package for self-employed workers, many of whom are builders.
25 March 2020 10.19
We’re committed at Homebuilding & Renovating to keeping you informed of anything that matters in the world of self build, home renovation and construction. That’s why today we’re launching BAU which stands, rather cleverly we think, for Building As Usual. Because, while this current crisis is anything but usual, we’re sure that you, our community of homeowners looking to create their dream home, and tradespeople, designers and builders, will find a way to keep on building – in whatever format.
Check back here regularly for updates of essential news, merchant openings (and closing), and find out what everyone else is doing to make the best of all this.