Dean Watson looks at immigration and the skills crisis in the construction industry after Brexit.

The Government is committed to spending billions to improve UK infrastructure, opening the door to untold opportunities for construction businesses. The question is, how will new immigration rules impact post-Brexit given the ongoing skills crisis?

Under proposals from the Migration Advisory Committee, EU nationals who want to work in the UK after the transition periods ends (December 31) will need a job offer and sponsorship. The good news is that minimum salary levels will be lowered and with the required skill level reduced to A-Level standard the new system paves the way for site supervisors, carpenters and joiners to work here.
On the flip side, the onus is on employers to ensure that employees from EU countries can prove their right to work in the UK, either by status under the EU Settlement Scheme, proof of arrival in the UK before 31 December 2020 or compliance with new immigration regulations.

Some roles will be precluded from visa sponsorship and self-employed EU workers will also be ruled out by the new system. Meanwhile, sponsorship costs, including the immigration skills charge and health charge, look set to increase.

The government could extend the low-skills visa to two years, to allow workers to qualify for a high-skilled visa once in the UK, but there are no plans to do so. It’s therefore down to individual firms to tackle the skills issue.

Start by confirming the number of EU nationals employed, brief them fully to ensure they understand the EU Settlement Scheme and plan upgrades to systems so that they can cope with more rigorous checks. By recruiting EU national workers now firms can avoid a hike in sponsorship fees. At the very least, they can budget for higher future costs.

Hiring and upskilling British workers is another option. However, it may be easier said than done for smaller contracting firms, which may not have the resources to set up training.

From 2021 it will be harder to attract suitably skilled EU workers, so individual businesses must act now to determine what’s best for them and ensure appropriate resources are in place post-Brexit.

Download Vision March 2020 …

John Woodhall examines the Government’s plans to reduce the impact of flooding on communities.

Government data shows that one in 10 new homes is built on a flood plain. In the wake of flood damage caused by Storms Ciara and Dennis, greater resilience is essential if we are to minimise the impact of climate change on our communities.

As a priority, existing properties must be properly protected, so it was good to see the Budget contain £5.2billion of government investment in a five-year flood and coastal defence infrastructure programme.

As extra money, on top of what the Environment Agency is already allocating to maintain existing flood defences, it’s a step in the right direction and a positive story for the West Midlands. With £23 million earmarked for the Severn Valley and £7 million each for Tamworth and Solihull, thousands of properties will benefit from enhanced protection.

One thing is certain, we cannot afford to disregard the impact on families when residential developments flood. Since 2009, some 70,000 houses have been built on sites likely to flood, according to research by independent think-tank Bright Blue and 20,000 are without any kind of defences. There is also the not insignificant matter of insurance, as homeowners in properties built in high-risk areas after 2009 may well be unable to obtain cover.

Over recent years calls for action by various advisers and industry experts have gone largely unheeded. Now, it seems the government is taking the issue seriously. We welcome recommendations from the Environment Agency that new homes should only be built on sites prone to flooding if there is no viable alternative and agree that, where development of flood plains is the only option, properties will require flood-proofing.

Tree planting, the creation of wetland habitats and restoration work to allow rivers to follow their natural course are among the Agency’s proposals. It also advises that building at ground floor level should be limited to garages. We suggest that a definitive list is drawn up, including greater use of resilient building materials and positioning electrical points comfortably above expected flood levels.
The Government has set an ambitious house building target. If it comes to it, the planning system should dictate choice of site, incorporate regulations that make flood plain development a last resort and spell out how to make homes flood proof.

Download Vision March 2020 …

James Shelley assesses the benefits of the New Homes Ombudsman to the UK’s house building sector.

The Government has confirmed it will set up the New Homes Ombudsman, an independent watchdog with statutory powers to resolve disputes between house builders and home buyers. We applaud the decision to press ahead with an initiative that will not only offer extra protection to consumers, but will also help to drive up quality standards.

Independent and operating separately from other industry watchdogs, the New Homes Ombudsman represents a serious crackdown on shoddy workmanship. The Government’s aim is to speed up the resolution of disputes, ensure that defects are rectified quickly and award compensation to consumers who deserve it.

It’s welcome news for buyers who currently have no independent access to redress if things go wrong and may face a lengthy and costly court case to resolve their dispute.

Ultimately, the aim is to drive up standards. The Government will legislate for a Code of Practice, setting out what consumers can expect and covering a developer’s entire buying and selling process. The New Homes Ombudsman will work to this Code when adjudicating complaints and use it to promote best practice.

It’s only right that access to support will be free for home buyers. Funding will come from organisations that commission or build new homes to sell, so commercial developers, housing corporations, private developers who construct shared ownership properties and social housing providers that sell freehold homes will be required by law to belong to the New Homes Ombudsman.

If their dream home is defective, consumers expect house builders to be held to account. Where tradespeople fail to meet key quality standards, the onus will be on those commissioning the work to fix defects. If developers don’t come up to scratch, the new watchdog has the powers to expel them. This is bound to have a positive knock-on effect, as house builders choose to contract with the most skilled and reliable carpenters and bricklayers.

We wait to see how the New Homes Ombudsman takes shape. But who can argue with a well-intentioned attempt to improve standards throughout the house building sector, drive out rogue builders and deliver a better service to home buyers?

Download Vision March 2020 …

Wakemans would like to reassure all our clients, consultant and contracting teams of our continuity of service during this period of uncertainty.

We have taken a number of measures to enable us to continue to provide you with our professional services whilst following Government advice and giving priority to the health of our employees and their families.

Our teams are already well equipped for remote working which has been part of our Company policy of flexible working for some time. This has now been extended to meet the Government advice for home working but regardless of where our staff are located communication by email, text and phone calls will continue to be answered as normal

We wish to work with you to protect the welfare of us all by reducing physical contact with people, eliminating non-essential travel and minimising the need for large scale meetings by utilising a range of media and conferencing systems.

If there are any specific measures that we can consider or implement to assist in the delivery of our service to your business during this challenging time, then please do keep us advised.

If you have any difficulties at all, please do not hesitate to get in touch, but may we again reassure you of our commitment to the ongoing delivery of our service.

 

John Woodhall
Executive Chairman
j.woodhall@wakemans.com
Dean Watson
Managing Director
d.watson@wakemans.com

 

John Woodhall welcomes Budget support for West Midlands businesses.

In his first Budget, Chancellor Rishi Sunak showed he was willing to splash the cash to support business development and economic growth with a package of measures that will directly benefit the West Midlands.

First things first, however. Whatever Budget plans had been drawn up surely had to be reworked in light of the spread of the Coronavirus. The central focus of the 2020 Budget was an injection of financial support to help businesses withstand the economic consequences, especially since the situation is predicted to get much worse before we can say it’s business as usual.

According to data from the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, 28% of local businesses are already feeling the effects of Covid-19 or soon expect to experience disruption to their supply chains or see new order pipelines dry up as events and trade shows are cancelled. We therefore applaud the Chancellor’s move to instil confidence by providing help for workers, businesses and the NHS.

Transport Investment

Given the Government’s commitment to spending on infrastructure, funding totalling at least £500 million for transport improvements across the West Midlands was a highlight of the 2020 Budget for our region.

For some time now we have argued that better connectivity between Midlands towns and cities is essential to spearhead business and infrastructure development, promote jobs growth and encourage inward investment. Investment of £20 million in the Midlands Rail Hub is key as it will enable it to move to the next stage and prepare an outline business case for a programme of improvements that will deliver more services, faster trains and an enhanced passenger experience. It is therefore gratifying to see that central government is right behind us. The funding is an example of the economic ‘levelling up’ that has been promised and underlines the Government’s commitment to the Midlands Engine and to driving prosperity throughout our region.

We also welcome the £160 million from the Local Growth Fund which is to be handed over to the West Midlands Combined Authority to speed up delivery of the Eastside Metro extension and the first phase of the Sprint bus rapid transit network. There was further good news regarding £700 million spending on strategic road schemes between 2020 and 2025, including key junctions in Coventry, Walsall and at Birmingham Airport and development of the A5 Tamworth to Hinkley route, supporting growth and housing.

Housing Priority

Support for housing in the West Midlands was also high on the Chancellor’s agenda, with the region set to share in a £400 million Brownfield Housing Fund. The need for additional housing cannot be understated, and we are very much in favour of initiatives which aim to protect the green belt by focussing residential development on brownfield sites. In particular, we were pleased to see that the North Warwickshire A5 corridor will receive £79.5 million to deliver 3,880 new homes.

Birmingham has a large number of high-rise residential buildings above 18 m, so a share of the £1 billion Building Safety Fund that the Chancellor has earmarked for non-ACM cladding is both deserved and welcome.

Our region was one of the hardest hit by Storms Ciara and Dennis so we welcome the news that a share of the government’s £5.2 billion funding for a flood and coastal defence infrastructure programme will be coming our way in 2021. The Severn Valley, Tamworth and Solihull will benefit from greater protection for 3,500 properties.

Trade Boost

Building on the Transforming Cities Fund, the West Midlands is one of eight mayoral combined authorities to benefit from five-year funding settlements, a total of £4.2 billion, from 2022-23. The Department for Trade and Industry will also champion West Midlands exporters thanks to the Midlands Engine being allocated a share of a £5 million budget for greater face-to-face support. Meanwhile, a share in a further £2 miilion will help to facilitate trade through overseas-based advisers. Our region will also be able to draw on funding for road maintenance and improvements, including a £54 million pot in 2020/21 made available through the Potholes Fund.

With an eye to trade post-Brexit, and to cement the UK’s position as a global leader in cutting-edge technology, including space, electric vehicles and life sciences, the Chancellor has set aside more than £500 million. This money will be used to promote innovations and benefit the supply chain, so a share in it is particularly important for the West Midlands, where the automotive sector accounts for 18% of manufacturing.

Commonwealth Games Economic Legacy

Birmingham is rightly proud to be hosting the 2020 Commonwealth Games and the wider Midlands region is looking to capitalise on the opportunities it brings our way. It seems the Government is determined we should derive full advantage of the long-term economic benefits of one of the world’s biggest multi-sports events and putting some 21.3 million into a Trade Tourism and Investment Programme will do much to achieve that goal.

Given the need to mitigate the fall out from the Coronavirus, some pressing matters have been delayed, including the new review into the reform of the business rates system, which has been put back to the autumn. Whilst short-term measures such as the business rate holiday for the coming year for retail businesses with a rateable value below £51,000 and business interruption loans are welcome, they are just that – short-term – and by no means represent a solution.

Business Rates Issue

Whilst the Budget made funding for small and medium-sized firms a priority, it is bigger businesses on the high street that are closing down outlets, making staff redundant or shutting up shop altogether because they are struggling to pay their business rate bills. We agree with the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and call on the Chancellor to address this as a matter of urgency once the Coronavirus pandemic is behind us.

Of course, the Government’s commitment to invest in infrastructure improvements to boost business and grow the UK economy does not come without risk, as borrowings will rise to meet its pledges. With this Budget the Government has underlined its determination to live up to its General Election promises. As always, only time will tell whether it proves to be a risk too far.

It’s four in a row for Knowle & Dorridge Racquets Club, which has clinched the 2019/20 Warwickshire Men’s Veteran’s League – with one match still to play!

We’re delighted to report that our client services director James Shelley once again played a key role in the club’s success. Alongside club captain Alistair Clark, managing director of AC Lloyd Homes, James was a regular in the A team, which has posted 11 wins and two draws in its 13 matches to date.

Knowle and Dorridge Racquets Club has secured an unassailable lead in the Division 1 title race following a 3-1 win in a recent match against Edgbaston Priory Club. Since the final match of the series is yet to be scheduled, the club is likely to end the season with even more points.

The Warwickshire Men’s Veterans League is open to tennis players aged 45 and over. At the close of the 2019/20 season Nuneaton Lawn Tennis Club, Leamington Tennis & Squash Club, Four Oaks Tennis Club, Knowle & Dorridge Racquets Club, Beechwood Lawn Tennis Club, Stratford-on-Avon Lawn Tennis Club and Edgbaston Priory Club will have played 56 fixtures.

Knowle & Dorridge Racquets Club is keen to continue its winning streak, which now stretches back to the 2016/17 season. This latest victory underlines how the club has reinforced its teams with quality players committed to improving their skills, having previously laid claim to the Warwickshire Men’s Veterans League Division 1 crown between 2009 and 2012.

 

With its appointment on a second project at one of Wolverhampton’s most prestigious schools, national property and construction consultancy Wakemans is reaping the benefits of its education sector expertise.

Wakemans is acting as quantity surveyor on a new science block at Wolverhampton Girls’ High School. The building has been designed by Seymour Harris Architects (SHA), which was instrumental in the School securing Selective School Expansion Fund (SSEF) funding last year.

Joe Harris at SHA, said: “As Wakemans are a trusted partner and have worked closely with us on the first project for the school, you have really appreciated what we as architects and the school are trying to achieve. We were therefore keen to work together again on this expansion project that will provide dedicated science, dining and community sports facilities in readiness for a growth in pupil numbers over the next five years.”

Wakemans quantity surveyor Gerard Belfield said: “We’re delighted to be teaming up with SHA on this important school expansion project.”

Over the past 40 years Wakemans has worked in partnership with SHA on a wide variety of regional and national projects. Most recently the two companies have collaborated on the £2.4 million Sixth Form hub at Wolverhampton Girls’ High School and a £4.2 million teaching block at Joseph Leckie Academy in Walsall.

 

CGI courtesy of  Seymour Harris Architecture.

Call to ‘Get Britain Building’ again.

Get Britain Building, the campaign originally set up in 2008, was relaunched in February 2020. The Building Alliance, the Builders Merchants Federation and the Federation of Master Builders are calling on the Government to support SME builders and construction products manufacturers and distributors, to invest in upgrades to existing homes and to introduce a skills improvement initiative.

Constructing West Midlands 2 progresses.

Coventry, Nuneaton and Bedworth, Solihull, Rugby and Warwickshire councils are calling in bids for the Constructing West Midlands 2 construction framework. The framework runs for 48 months initially and eight contractors will be appointed on a £2.1bn programme of works to be carried out over six years.

Regional office construction on the rise.

Office construction across Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Belfast continues to grow according the latest Deloitte Real Estate crane survey. Almost 2 million sq. ft. of office space was delivered in 2019 with a further 4.3 million sq. ft. currently under construction. More than 775,000 sq. ft. was delivered in Birmingham, which equates to a quarter of a million sq. ft. more than at any time since the first Birmingham survey in 2002.

 

Congratulations to St. Modwen on its success in this year’s Brownfield Awards, which saw the remediation of the former Goodyear tyre manufacturing works in Wolverhampton named as Best Urban Regeneration Project.

Wakemans is proud to be a member of the multi-disciplinary team assembled by St. Modwen for this major regeneration initiative and was responsible for Project Management, Quantity Surveying and CDM monitoring.

A focus on flexibility and sustainability, especially in view of the residual contamination and complex ground conditions, was instrumental in St. Modwen winning the accolade. The company’s respect for the site’s heritage and sensible reuse of materials were also applauded.

The judges singled out the phased approach to the regeneration scheme, which will provide 850 new homes, a new 12-acre community park, local centre and extension to Oxley School, as this enabled St. Modwen to maintain control of the works at all times and keep dust, odour and noise to a minimum.

St. Modwen was also commended for its innovative design for the demolition of the former factory, the judges remarking that it was sensitive to the impact on the local community and took care to mitigate the risks.

However, the judges were particularly impressed with St. Modwen’s commitment to engage with residents and invest in the community. They singled out the fact that the company made engagement with the community a top priority, applauding its thinking through of the potential nuisance aspects of the works and implementation of a robust Health and Safety Plan.

Details about the 2019 Brownfield Awards winners are available at: https://events.environment-analyst.com/bb-award-winners-2019/

Register to download the full report: https://environment-analyst.com/dis/bb-awards-guide?ls=tw

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Wakemans is working with Travelodge, the UK’s first budget hotel brand, on a £13 million property in north London to meet growing demand for good quality, low-cost accommodation in the Capital.

Overseeing Travelodge’s interests, Wakemans is acting as tenant’s agent on the new London Manor House Travelodge PLUS, an eight-storey hotel that will provide 143 rooms.

Designed with both business and leisure travellers in mind, this new-build hotel is designed in the company’s ‘budget chic’ hotel format, called Travelodge PLUS.  As well as the brand’s enhanced new look rooms, the hotel features 33 SuperRooms, Travelodge’s premium economy room concept with extra amenities for added comfort. Meanwhile, a fully licensed new-look Bar Café features distinctive zones for those working outside the room, more intimate booths and dining benches for groups and a stylish new statement bar.

Jo Dale, Head of Technical Services for Hotels at Wakemans, said: “Travelodge is resolutely committed to delivering value for money for people who want to overnight close to the City of London. The layout of the site makes this an interesting development because the building is eight storeys, yet from one elevation it appears to have only six floors.”

Tony O’Brien, UK Development Director at Travelodge said: “London is a key growth area for Travelodge and we are delighted to be opening a Travelodge PLUS hotel in the premium location of Manor House, just by the tube station. There is a desperate need within the area for good quality and low-cost accommodation and our new hotel will be a great addition, helping to attract new visitors to the area and to boost the local economy.”