CIC Blog: 2019

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Worries build in UK Construction industry as Brexit creeps closer

Maddie Grounds

Political correspondent

Immigration Advice Service

With Theresa May’s Brexit deal being defeated in Parliament, and no-deal still very much on the table despite the extension to article 50 announced last week, several industries are feeling increasingly concerned about what the future holds for them. Unfortunately, the construction industry is not exception to this; a no-deal would be severely detrimental to the sector’s current workforce, materials and funding.

The end to free movement is up there with the most troubling impacts that Brexit will have on UK industries. Currently, EU migrants are able to cross UK-EU borders with no requirement for visas or complex applications, allowing them to work in the UK if and when they choose. A CBI report released last year reiterated the magnitude of these effects and urged the government to consider the sizeable impact and importance of EU talent on UK industries.

Unsurprisingly, they didn’t listen.

Consolidating the future of a hostile Britain, May’s White Paper confirmed the end of free movement whilst laying out strict requirements for those looking to take the Tier 2 Visa application route into the UK. Despite lifting the 20,700 cap, the minimum income threshold of £30,000 still stands, meaning that many valuable ‘low-skilled’ workers, including construction workers, will simply be unable to apply.

For employers looking to employ migrant workers, they must first apply for a Sponsor Licence in order to officially ‘sponsor’ a migrant worker and bring them to the UK. This costs a significant fee and involves a series of complex processes, often causing delays for companies including construction. What’s more, the prioritisation of skilled workers to fulfil the gaps listed in the Shortage Occupation lists only pushes the ability to employ construction workers further away.  

May’s solution for this, a temporary measure allowing workers to come to Britain for 12 months, fails to provide any clarity for workers trying to plan ahead and may not even be included in the event of a no-deal. This leaves EU workers in a state of limbo with the assurance of employment opportunities crumbling under the weight of the Prime Minister’s hostile environment.

But how many workers will this actually effect?

Currently, workers from outside the UK account for 15% of the construction workforce, equating to more than one in eight. Half of those come from an EU country. According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), they could lose a huge 200,000 EU workers post-Brexit. The severity of this skills gap will affect almost all area of the construction industry and prohibit overseas workers from filling a range of skill-level jobs; from general (40%), skilled labours and tradespeople (11%), bricklayers (8%), plant and mechanical operations (7%) and supervisory/managerial roles (5%).

The implications of Brexit on the industries workforce are numerous and far-reaching. EU construction professionals and labourers are likely to turn their backs on employment opportunities in the UK once the government’s unwelcoming policies are implemented. 

In addition to permanent construction roles, tighter border controls will problematise the current reliance of mobility and access required by temporary workers and contractors. For example, HGV drivers, who need continuous ease of transport and delivery facilitation, are likely to feel the full force of these restrictions on the pace and efficiency of their work.

Construction projects such as the Heathrow Expansion and HS2 are also set to suffer as EU workers held up by tighter border regulations may cause long-term delays. Additionally, Brexit could see the reversal of the EU as a fundamental source of investment for these types of projects. The European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF) invested £5.98 billion into infrastructure projects in 2015.

Whilst the Brexit impact on the construction workforce is undeniably worrying, this is not the only consequence that a no-deal scenario could bring to the future of the industry. According to Build UK, £10 billion construction products are imported from the EU every year. Crashing out the EU will place the UK at the bottom of the trade pile, with its new ‘third country status’ resulting in its trading certificates no longer being recognised in the its current renowned way. With the UK government setting targets to build 300,000 homes every year, the delay or processing difficulties at borders could have a devastating effect on achieving this aim.

Although some products can be traded domestically, others such as timber will need to be imported. A weaker pound will lead to rising costs of imported materials, making it imperative that investors and employers work collaboratively to secure an effective trade deal.

It is difficult to see past the fog of Brexit looming over our heads whilst questions surrounding the UK’s future remain unanswered. Feelings of uncertainty define the beginning of 2019 for the construction industry and will continue to prevail so long as a no-deal remains a possibility. The government desperately needs to consider the importance of the EU in providing a valuable workforce, accessibility to materials and financial aid to infrastructure projects. Otherwise, the industry faces a disastrous aftermath.

Contributor: This blog has been written by Maddie Grounds, political correspondent at the Immigration Advice Service.

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Empowering the apprenticeships system to address the skills crisis in the built environment

Aled Williams

CIC Champion on Higher Education and Deputy Convenor for the Higher Education Group of the Construction and Built Environment Education Advisory Committee (CBEE)

The UK construction and built environment industry faces a huge challenge in securing enough skilled labour to deliver the predicted volume of projects over the next few years. The Construction Industry Training Board estimates that the industry needs 168,500 new people to come into the workforce by 2022 (Construction Skills Network report, February 2019).

Supply of labour from the EU may become constrained post-Brexit due to changing immigration regulations, exacerbating the problem and increasing the need to recruit and train workers from within the UK.  Apprenticeships represent a huge opportunity for the industry to address the growing skills shortage identified by employers and professional bodies.

Since the 2012 Richard Review of Apprenticeships it has been a central part of the UK Government’s skills policy to increase the volume and quality of Apprenticeships.  This has involved setting a target of 5 million starts between 2015 and 2020 and introducing employer-led standards to replace the existing frameworks.  A further policy driver is the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in May 2017.

Employers are putting more resources than ever into apprenticeships following the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy with approx. £2 billion/year being allocated to apprenticeship provision.  Feedback from UK employers indicates that the Apprenticeship system is not yet delivering the benefits that employers are looking for, with an estimated 86% Levy funds unspent after 18 months.

Issues identified to date include:

  • Slow and confusing processes to approve new standards, leading to long delays in some cases, especially at higher and degree level where standards that are urgently required to meet skills gaps (such as Construction Site Manager, Building Control Surveyor and Construction Surveying Technician are still not available for employers to use)
  • Lack of consistency and transparency in allocating funding bands to standards, rendering some standards undeliverable without employers providing additional top-up funding
  • Lack of flexibility in design of End Point Assessment, leading to well-established processes for assessing professional competence being rejected
  • Bureaucracy associated with meeting compliance requirements, which may deter some employers from wishing to be involved in Apprenticeships 

Professional Apprenticeships Task and Finish Group

“Good progress has been made across numerous aspects of the apprenticeships agenda over the last year. But there are still many areas to improve if the system is to fully meet the needs of employers in the built environment industry. In particular we need to ensure that in these challenging times employers can realise the huge potential of the apprenticeships system to address their future skills needs.”

Tony Burton, Partner, Board Member, Gardiner & Theobald

A CIC Task and Finish Group will investigate such issues in greater depth and seek to identify potential improvements to the Apprenticeships system from a sector specific perspective.  It is important to find out how it’s working for the built environment industry, to understand what’s going well (and what isn’t).

Aims

The aim will be to identify improvements which would make the system work better for the built environment industry and generate a series of practical recommendations which could be presented to policy makers for action:

  • To specify how the industry can derive greater value from the apprenticeships system following the introduction of the Levy
  • To make recommendations to Government to implement the changes required to achieve better outcomes for employers, apprentices and the economy
  • Apprenticeships at all levels (3-7) in all built environment subjects

Objectives

  • To identify the main challenges experienced by employers in dealing with the apprenticeships system (e.g. in terms of availability of standards, use of Levy funds, flexibility to address business needs etc, taking account of a range of data sources)
  • To articulate actionable improvements to the apprenticeships system for the benefit of the built environment industry
  • To make specific evidence-based recommendations to policy makers

Outputs

  • Interim report by May 2019, timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the Apprenticeship Levy - the point at which employers start to lose access to unspent Levy funds.

Participants

The Task and Finish Group will represent the views of constituencies including employers, trailblazer groups, professional institutions, education providers and communicate effectively with others, including Institute for Apprenticeships & Technical Education, CITB, Construction Leadership Council, CBEE Advisory Committee and Government and its relevant departments.

For further information please send your contact details to enquiries@cic.org.uk

Contributor: Aled Williams is Director of Research, Innovation and Partnerships at University College of Estate Management. (https://www.ucem.ac.uk/)

Tags: Apprenticeships, Apprenticeship Levy, Construction, Built Environment, Construction Industry Council, Construction and Built Environment Education Advisory Committee
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M4(3) Wheelchair User Dwellings

Rachael Marshall

Access and inclusive design consultant

Withernay Projects

Jane Simpson’s recent article about the disparity in provision of accessible housing in the UK and misunderstandings of Approved Document M Volume 1 brought to mind examples from my work advising developers about accessible and inclusive housing.

The focus of this article is M4(3) Wheelchair User Housing, but I’ll start by adding my voice to Jane’s case for making M4(2) the national default regulation to address the well-documented shortage of basic accessible and adaptable housing. (Habinteg, Joseph Rowntree etc.).

Three years after the revision of Part M of the Building Regulations and the accompanying changes to the National Planning Policy Framework, I still have conversations with architects and developers about the differences between M4(2) and M4(3). Once they’ve grasped that more conversation is needed about M4(3) 2(a) and M4(3) 2(b). More worrying is that I am still reading planning conditions that refer to Lifetime Homes standards and wheelchair users’ housing for new developments in London boroughs.

As Jane highlighted, the similarity of the name of Category 2 (‘Adaptable and Accessible Housing’) and the subdivisions of Category 3 (‘wheelchair adaptable’ and wheelchair accessible’) further complicate matters.

Approved Document M guidance about M4(3) dwellings covers both adaptable, M4(3)(2)(a), and accessible, M4(3)(2)(b), units, from here referred to as ‘adaptable’ and ‘accessible’.

Back in July 2017 I started working with a developer of ‘build to rent’ housing and my first task was to untangle their sketchy understanding of the accessible housing standards. The developer’s confusion was compounded by conflicting planning conditions for the scheme that required dwellings built to meet Lifetime Homes standards, 10% to be either adaptable to meet the needs of wheelchair users or built to meet their needs, and to meet M4(2) and M4(3) of the Building Regulations.

Once this was resolved the developer struggled to understand why they would build homes that were adaptable to meet the needs of wheelchair users instead of accessible wheelchair user homes.

The local authority would not be responsible for allocating any of the dwellings, and therefore could not impose a condition that required a proportion of the dwellings to be ‘accessible’. However, the developer could not accept this and worried that the company would be liable under the Equality Act if they did not build accessible dwellings that were as ready as possible for a wheelchair user from day one.

After much discussion about the Equality Act, the Building Regulations and the fact that even an ‘accessible’ M4(3)(2)(b) unit may still need adaption to suit an individual, the client decided to build a proportion of their M4(3) units as almost-accessible instead of adaptable. This resulted in:

  • Bathrooms and shower rooms being slightly wider than in the Approved Document to enable the bath / shower, basin and toilet to be in line and have the necessary clear manoeuvering zones; and
  • Kitchens having mechanical rise-and-fall units with demountable cupboards beneath that are additional to the required storage provision, and a mid-height oven.

This strategy will serve potential disabled tenants well because they will not have to wait for the following alterations to be made to convert an M4(3) adaptable dwelling into an M4(3) accessible dwelling that suits their needs:

  • Removing / adding / relocating some kitchen units and appliances;
  • Addition of adjustable-height section of counter and associated mechanism incorporating shallow sink, hob and counter with clear space beneath;
  • Adjustment / replacement of plumbing and electrical wiring; and
  • Remedial work to kitchen floor.

This is irrespective of whether the developer or the tenant is responsible for the adaptations.

In my experience this strategy is much more in line with what was built prior to the introduction of the Optional Categories into Part M to meet planning policies that required ‘dwellings that are easily adaptable to meet the needs of wheelchair users’, and would be more appropriate than current M4(3)(a) guidance.

Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Approved Document to set out its guidance about designing homes for wheelchair users in a similar way to the section about M4(2) homes? The current Category 3 guidance perpetuates the idea that an M4(3) accessible dwelling would suit all wheelchair users, which is not the case.

In summary, I would support:

  • Making M4(2) the minimum requirement for all new homes built, including those that are created from commercial to residential change-of-use buildings;
  • Omitting all guidance about ‘accessible’ M4(3) dwellings; and
  • ‘Upgrading’ the M4(3) guidance about dwellings that can be easily adapted to meet the needs of wheelchair users without moving sanitary fittings and kitchen appliances.

Contributor: Rachael Marshall is an Access and inclusive design consultant who runs Withernay Projects (www.withernay.com)

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Constructing a dementia-friendly society

Kirstie Kalonji

Programme Partnerships Officer

Alzheimer's Society

Hello Construction sector!

My name is Kirstie, I am the Programme Partnerships Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, and I’d like you to meet Betty.

Betty has dementia. In order for her to live well, she needs to be able to keep doing the things she loves for as long as possible. Such as:

  • Staying independent in her home - however, her dementia affects her vision, so she often struggles to identify her front door, as it is too similar to the others on her street.
  • Going to shops in her high street - however, last time she visited she wanted to have a rest, and couldn’t recognise the seating areas, as they were designed in funky, unconventional shapes.
  • Attending her granddaughters dance performances at university - however, last time she was there with her husband, there was no unisex toilet for him to assist her without causing embarrassment.
  • Visiting hospital for check-ups - however, last time the lack of contrasting colours in the reception area made it difficult for her locate the main welcome desk.
  • Going for a walk in her local park - however, last time she went, she got slightly lost as she could not identify the way out due to dim lighting.
  • Taking a flight to visit her son in Jersey - however, last time she was at the airport, the shiny floors looked like wet puddles to her, and she got confused as to how to get around them.

To conclude, Betty may be forced to stop doing the things she enjoys as her dementia progresses, because she is worried about getting the support she needs from her built environment. This will have a devastating impact on her health and wellbeing.

Why does construction matter?

The Construction industry is involved in the design and build of key areas, such as housing, commercial, education, healthcare, public spaces and transport, all of which will have a direct affect on people living with dementia. Furthermore, many construction companies are involved in working to improve the lives of local residents and tourists. We therefore expect the industry to consider vulnerable groups, such as people living with dementia.

How can you help?

  1. Ensure there is a basic knowledge and understanding of dementia throughout your business by rolling out Dementia Friends to all of your team members. This is an easy and affective awareness raising initiative which can be as simple as watching a 10 minute video.
  2. Build on this foundation, by following the guidelines in our business guide.

Examples of next steps specifically for the construction industry:

  • Involve citizens/people living with dementia at design stage
  • Build safe, non-clinical, dementia and age-friendly environments
  • Engage retailers, supply chains and designers with dementia-friendly checklists
  • Coproduce with policy planners, designers, commissioners, housing and health care professionals

Over 1 million people in the UK are set to have dementia by 2021, and over two thirds of these individuals will be living in the community. It is vital that the construction sector is working to ensure our communities are built in a dementia-friendly way, so that people living with dementia can continue to live well.

Contributor: Kirstie Kalonji is Programme Partnerships Officer at the Alzheimer's Society

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Inclusive Housing?

Jane Simpson

Director

Jane Simpson Access

If the purpose of introducing Optional Categories 2 and 3 into Building Regulations Part M for England was to simplify and expedite the design and construction of accessible housing, then it has failed. More worryingly, the Home Builders

More worryingly, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) has objected to fifteen draft local plans outlining targets for accessible housing.  I remember the campaign to save the doorstep!

We have all seen the cases of homes with inadequate storage, tinned food stored in car boots and nowhere secure or safe to store cycles, pushchairs or scooters and bizarrely garages too small for cars. The changes were introduced in 2015 and the industry should be ensuring that homes are fit for purpose. Eight years ago the RIBA’s Case for Space campaign identified issues; three bedroomed homes in London were 36m²  larger than in Yorkshire; in May 2017 they are now only 25m² larger. Can we trust the actions of the BHF? Regulation is needed now more than ever.

So what needs to change?

Terminology

The terminology applied to M4(2) Accessible and Adaptable and M4(3) Wheelchair Adaptable or Accessible does nothing to clarify; it is confusing! This results in too many architects and developers in London assuming that the requirement is for 100% M4(2) and to show that 10%  can be adapted to M4(3); this is not correct. The 10% requirement is for M4(3) housing to be built.

Planning

The only mechanism now is for English local authorities to specify a percentage of accessible residential units on a new development by means of a planning condition. But there has to be proven evidence of local need.  Many local authorities cannot afford the expense of such a study. My own local authority in northern England recently lost 40% of its budget, how can they justify the expense?

Another flaw is the removal of a Local authorities’ power to dictate accessible housing standards when converting non-residential properties. This results in still fewer accessible dwellings being created.

Building regulations

The obligation remains for existing dwellings to be no less compliant than prior to building work taking place, but only when the work is a material alteration. Confusion about this is evident on popular programmes such as Homes under the Hammer, in which the removal of the downstairs WC to an upstairs bathroom is regularly applauded. Sorry, don’t you want you granny or granddad to visit and are you happy for your toddler to use a potty on the kitchen floor?

Confusion persists amongst:

Planning departments

  • Prior to 2015 Local Authorities had developed their own accessible housing standards and many are under the false impression that they can insist upon them; no they can’t.
  • If they don’t specify the percentage of Category 2 and 3, there is nothing for Building Control to check against.

Developers

  • Category 3 requirements are not met by a Category 2 that can be amended if needed to become Category 3. You build to either Category 3 adaptable, or accessible. A Category 2 cannot provide the space needed for a Category 3, whilst retaining the same numbers of bedrooms.
  • Certain key elements such as pre-emptive works for level access showers are misinterpreted, despite the definitions in Appendix A of the Approved Document being very clear.

The future of Part M

Meanwhile, it is well-documented that we are an aging population with bed-blocked hospitals because homes are unsafe or unsuitable for people’s needs.

Let’s hope that the forthcoming revisions to Approved Document M Volume 1 will allay some of this confusion and encourage housing to suit our ever-changing population. Habinteg estimate an increase of £521 built cost and £1,387 extra space cost for a three bedroomed house; weigh that against the cost of a day in hospital £683 or a week in residential care typically £560-660.

Surely the extra cost would soon pay for itself by the reduction in hospital bed-blocking alone.

We need:

  • The minimum standard to be Category 2 nationwide for all new build.
  • A more simplified fit for purpose guidance, reduce confusion.
  • Redefine Category 3 to Wheelchair housing. All homes need to be adapted to suit an individual anyway.
  • Remove the blanket exemption for conversion of non-residential properties.
  • Enforce regulations where homes are undertaking non-compliant alterations, reducing accessibility.

Contributor: Jane Simpson is an architect and NRAC registered Access Consultant. www.janesimpsonaccess.com

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Don’t break a sweat over the Heat Network Regulations

Fergus McEwan

Senior Enforcement Officer (Heat Networks)

Office for Product Safety and Standards

Heat networks are shared heating systems which provide a more energy efficient alternative to domestic boiler heating systems. They incorporate systems where water is heated or chilled at a central source (such as a boiler or plant room) and then channelled to customers through a pipe network for heating, cooling or hot water use. There are two types of heat network. Communal networks serve a single building containing multiple customers, such as a block of flats or offices. District networks serve multiple buildings, such as a housing estate or university campus.

Heat networks are very popular in northern Europe but currently supply only around 2% of homes and offices in the UK. However, the government is promoting this technology as an important contributor towards its carbon-cutting targets. The sector was largely unregulated until the publication of the Heat Network Regulations, which seek to establish some uniformity among operators in the way they bill customers (i.e. according to their actual consumption of heat) while also giving customers an incentive to reduce their consumption. The Regulations are also being used to create the first detailed picture of heat networks in operation throughout the UK.

The Regulations are enforced by the Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS), part of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. They place duties on heat suppliers, defined as anyone who supplies and charges for the supply of heating, cooling and/or hot water to customers through a heat network. In a domestic setting, customers are those with the exclusive use of a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen within their home. In a non-domestic setting, customers are those with the exclusive use of a partitioned space. Heat suppliers must: inform OPSS of the details of their networks; install heat meters to measure customers’ consumption (where it is cost-effective and technically feasible to do so), and; use those meters to bill customers by actual consumption.

Heat suppliers should inform OPSS of their existing networks as soon as possible, using the official ‘notification template’. This asks for information such as the number of buildings and customers on those networks as well as, for metered networks, the amount of heat generated and supplied. New heat networks should be identified on or before the date they become active. A fresh notification form must be completed within every four-year period thereafter. Heat suppliers will in future be required to use a cost-effectiveness tool to determine whether or not they should install heat meters. The cost-effectiveness tool will be released following a planned consultation. Where the tool gives a positive response, heat suppliers will be expected to install meters and begin billing customers by actual consumption as soon as the meters have been installed. Where the tool gives a negative response, heat suppliers will be required to re-use the tool every four years thereafter.

The Regulations apply across the UK and are enforced by OPSS on behalf of the devolved governments. The enforcement approach taken by OPSS is always to help heat suppliers achieve compliance, although there are criminal penalties for wilful non-compliance. The ‘notification template’ is available at www.gov.uk/guidance/heat-networks. This webpage contains guidance on the types of heat networks considered to be inside and outside the scope of the Regulations. It also contains a list of FAQs and a ‘heat estimator’ tool to help with heat generation and supply calculations. The email address to which completed notification forms should be sent is heatnotifications@beis.gov.uk.

Contributor: Fergus McEwan is a Senior Enforcement Officer (Heat Networks) at the Office for Product Safety and Standards which is part of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

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