Government urged to consider the environmental cost to timber over the new ban on combustible cladding

Engineered timber products such as cross laminated timber must be exempt from the UK government’s ban on combustible cladding materials, as they are essential in the global battle against climate change, say architects.

Waugh Thistleton – co-founders Andrew Waugh and Anthony Thistleton and dRMM founding director Alex de Rijke have all urged the Government to review its legislation, which prohibits the use of timber products on the external walls of residential buildings taller than 18 metres.

Waugh and Thistleton said the new policy “demonstrates a misunderstanding of the fire performance of engineered timber”.

“We are clear that mass timber construction is not a valid target for this change and will continue to advocate for its exemption,” said the pair.

CLT safer than steel in a fire

De Rijke, who has completed many buildings using cross-laminated timber (CLT), said the material is safer than steel in a fire.

“The government is mistaken to consider engineered structural timber materials, like CLT, as highly combustible thin cladding material,” said De Rijke.

“Mass timber is slow-burning, self-charring – even self-extinguishing, structurally predictable, and does not produce deadly toxic fumes in a fire,” he continued.

De Rijke gives Kingsdale School, the UK’s first CLT building as an example.

“dRMM were the UK’s first architects for a CLT public building in 2004 – the government-funded Kingsdale School – and accordingly had to present the European material to central government, local authority and fire brigade. All were convinced then and now by the evidence that, when properly sized and detailed, CLT is not only safe in a fire, but safer than many other standard industry materials such as steel – ironically the default material for buildings over 18 metres.

“Political knee-jerk reaction is uninformed”

The new legislation, titled Final Impact Assessment: Ban on combustible materials and external wall systems,  states that only materials with a European fire rating of Class A1 or A2 may be used on the external walls of tall residential buildings, and states explicitly that wood products do not come under this classification.

This is “likely to slow down the use of engineered timber in future development in the medium to long term” it claims.

The policy was introduced in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, after it was confirmed that combustible cladding contributed to the fast spread of the fire.

Architects have largely welcomed the ruling, but insist that CLT should be exempt.

“This political knee-jerk reaction is uninformed and counter-productive. Banning safe timber construction prevents the creation of healthy and safe cities, and worsens the global environmental crisis of carbon emissions due to use of materials like concrete and steel,” said De Rijke.

“The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy and we fully support a ban on designing or building using combustible, volatile and toxic materials. But engineered mass timber is not one of them.”

UK is world leader in engineered timber construction

Engineered timber, also known as mass timber, is increasingly being championed in architecture as a sustainable alternative to steel and concrete structural frameworks.

Waugh and Thistleton claim that, even if the ban is maintained, the material is still crucial to the future of sustainable and fire-safe construction, as it is mainly a structural material not a surface material.

The pair have worked on numerous CLT projects, including the “world’s largest cross laminated timer building”.

“The new legislation does not propose a ban on engineered timber or CLT structures; it will simply change the way we build tall timber residential buildings,” they said.

“The UK is a world leader in the development of engineered timber construction with over 500 buildings completed. As the government acknowledges, this change in regulations will have an impact on the continued innovation and development of low carbon construction, and hence on the rate at which the construction industry can tackle climate change,” they said.

“It is imperative that architects recognise the impact of their work on the environment. Waugh Thistleton Architects will continue to research, design and build using low carbon technologies and reducing our reliance on concrete and steel.”

Source: Dezeen

august figures

Construction output grew 2.1% in 3rd quarter

Construction output is continuing to recover following a relatively weak start to the year, increasing by 1.7% in September 2018 and by 2.1% for the third quarter.

The 2.1% growth in GB construction output in Quarter 3 (July to September) 2018 followed a fall of 1.6% in the first quarter and an increase of 0.8% in Quarter 2 (April to June) 2018.

Growth in the third quarter of 2018 was driven by all new work which increased by 2.8%, and repair & maintenance which increased by 1.0%, according to Office National Statistics data for Great Britain.

Between August and September 2018, construction output increased by 1.7%, driven by a 2.8% increase in all new work and partly offset by a fall of 0.3% in repair & maintenance.

The level of the all work series for September 2018 reached £13,995 million – a record high since the monthly records began in January 2010.

Construction output increased by £872m in Q3 2018 compared with Q2 2018. The most notable contribution to growth came from private housing new work, which increased by £507m between Q2 and Q3.

Non-housing repair & maintenance and infrastructure also grew strongly, by £230m and £191m respectively.

In contrast, downward pressure on construction output in Q 3 2018 came from private commercial new work, private housing repair & maintenance and private industrial new work, which had falls in the three-month on three-month series. These decreased on Q2 by £162m, £124m and £60m respectively.

construction output 2

Blane Perrotton, managing director of the national property consultancy and surveyors Naismiths, commented: “The construction industry is enjoying an Indian Summer. True, the surge in output in the third quarter is flattered by comparison with the grim decline of the first quarter and the plodding indifference of the second. But this is real, and welcome, progress.

“House-building retains its crown as both poster child and ‘get out of jail’ card for the industry as a whole. House-builders delivered a half billion boost to the industry in the third quarter, but elsewhere the growth was patchy at best. Infrastructure work remains in positive territory but output is down, with contractors focusing on finishing existing projects rather than starting new ones.

“Among developers there is a widening confidence gap between the overheated southeast and other areas where demand is stronger and margins better. Despite a marked improvement in the Brexit mood music this week, months of deadlocked negotiations have choked investor appetite. Unless and until the political limbo is ended, the industry will continue its holding pattern of two steps forward and one step back.”

Source: UK Construction Week

mccarthy and stone

Part-exchanges cost McCarthy & Stone

McCarthy & Stone has seen its profits fall by a third in the past year due to increase build costs and an increased reliance on part-exchanges with customers.

For the year to 31st August 2018 McCarthy & Stone’s underlying operating profit decreased by 30% to £68m (FY17: £96m) while profit before tax decreased to £58m (FY17: £92m).

This reduction in profitability was mainly driven by the slowdown in sales, reduced margins, build cost increases, increased usage of part‑exchange to counteract subdued market conditions, additional marketing activity and an increase in operating costs, the board said.

Legal completions dipped to 2,134 units for the year (FY17: 2,302).

Part-exchange accounted for 35% of all McCarthy & Stone’s sales in the financial year 2018, up from 27% in FY17. However, it has now brought its part-excahnge scheme in-house, saving £7m a year.

Chief executive John Tonkiss, who took over from Clive Fenton in September, said: “During the year, we conducted a full strategic review of the business and in September 2018 announced our new transformation strategy. This new strategy represents a significant shift in the business mindset away from growth and towards increasing our return on capital employed and operating margin. Our focus now is on creating a more efficient business capable of delivering improved shareholder returns, while leveraging our longer term strategic opportunities. This includes increasing customer appeal by offering a broader choice of tenure options, as well as increased flexibility and affordable offerings.

“Whilst it has been a challenging year for the Group and we were faced with particularly difficult market conditions with the level of UK monthly housing transactions showing a decline of around 40% since 2015, we delivered full year revenue of £672m (FY17: £661m) and brought 68 (FY17: 49) high-quality developments to market.”

The annual results include £2m of exceptional costs due to third-party advisory fees in relation to the new strategy.

Source: Construction Index

uk construction

Construction growth rising

UK construction growth has risen through October, thanks in part to an upturn in civil engineering activity.

The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers’ Index rose in October to 53.2. This was up on the 52.1 reported in September and against the no-change reading of 50. For the uninitiated, a figure below 50 indicates contraction.

Having dropped off somewhat through August and September, civil engineering activity grew at its quickest pace since July 2017. Housing and commercial construction also expanded, albeit at a slower rate. New business volumes rose more slowly however, with construction firms citing intense competition and delayed decisions from clients as the root causes. Worryingly, business optimism fell to a near six-year low.

Understandably, input purchasing increased more cautiously – at its slowest rate in seven months. And yet, delivery times for construction products and materials continued to stretch, with firms reporting stock shortages at builders’ merchants.

Trevor Balchin, Economics Director at IHS Markit, said: “Although total UK construction activity rose at a stronger pace in October, the underlying survey data paint a less rosy picture for the sector towards the end of the year.”

According to Balchin: “Construction firms continued to raise headcounts at a strong pace, suggesting they are not expecting an imminent contraction in demand. That said, if the new orders and expectations indices remain at current levels or fall further, the employment index could also drift back towards the 50.0 no-change mark.”

Duncan Brock, Group Director at CIPS, added: “These results point to the sector getting stuck in the mud as we approach March 2019, and with ongoing supplier delays and stock shortages, the sector may not be able to respond quickly enough anyway should there by a sudden upturn in fortunes.”

Source: UK Construction Week / UK Construction Media

budget 2017

Housing shake up in the 2018 budget

More help for first-time buyers and plans for homes on the High Street have been announced.

Presenting the Autumn budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond said a ‘turning point in our nation’s recovery’ has been reached and vowed that the era of austerity was ending.

Most first-time buyers of shared ownership properties will now no longer pay stamp duty, under the measures.

Chancellor Philip Hammond also said that the Help to Buy scheme would end in 2023 – an extension of two years.

Mr Hammond said the housing market needed to be fixed, adding it was key to boosting UK productivity and living standards.

The UK is facing a shortage of housing. The number of homes on the market is at a 10 year low and fewer people are taking out mortgages.

Mr Hammond promised an extra £500m for the Housing Infrastructure Fund – a pot of money that local councils can apply to for help with building homes.

This extra cash should help build 650,000 more homes, he said.

The government has also struck deals with nine housing associations to deliver 13,000 homes across England.

And the chancellor wants to see more SMEs – small and medium-sized enterprises – building houses, so has announced up to £1bn of British business bank guarantees.

Mr Hammond also said he was providing money to help up to 500 neighbourhoods to allocate land for housing and sell the homes to local people at a discount.

He also confirmed that the cap on councils, which limits their ability to borrow money to build council houses, would be scrapped. Theresa May had already promised the cap would be scrapped in her Conservative Party conference speech.

Mr Hammond’s announcements come after analysis earlier this year suggested that house-building across half of England was slower than it was before the 2008 financial crash.

Source: BBC news



Fire safety in construction a bigger priority post Grenfell

The construction industry has seen myriad improvements to fire safety since the Grenfell Tower fire, but there is frustration that the government has responded too slowly, a new study reveals.

Since the fire in June 2017, which killed 71 people, construction industry professionals have seen substantive changes in products used for cladding, insulation and fire doors, as well as greater demands for more fire testing of products.

A survey of construction professionals from all parts of the trade, conducted for UK Construction Week (UKCW), also suggested fire safety has become a bigger priority in revised procurement policies, tenders and contract terms, the survey reveals.

However, the government was widely criticised for taking too long to clarify new requirements since the fire and subsequent publication of the Hackitt Review on 17 May 2018.

One respondent to the survey said: “I just wish that action could happen more quickly”, while another said “things are changing, but way too slowly.” Another had particularly low expectations of the government: “The government will take a decade to produce yet another set of incomplete regulations together, and will probably produce another white paper. They need to set a clock on this.”

Asked what changes they had made since the tragedy respondents had most frequently reviewed project designs and specifications, commissioned additional fire risk assessments on projects and ramped up fire safety training.

They were also asked to pick the three changes they thought would most likely improve fire safety across the built environment, in buildings of all sizes and types. On average they most frequently cited greater involvement of some to conduct a full fire risk assessment to enhance design and specification – such as an architect, clerk of works, fire engineer, or fire and rescue service.

Contractor-led ‘Design and Build’

Many called for the end of contractor-led ‘Design and Build’ contracts.

Not far behind in second place was a sea change in specifying materials. Many backed the recently announced ban on combustible materials in exposed areas of a building, in particular cladding or insulation.

The aluminium composite material panels used on Grenfell Tower have been banned and more recent regulations will extend the ban to include plastics, wood and products that include combustible materials such as aluminium composite panels in the external wall systems used in residential buildings more than 18 metres tall. The only materials that will be allowed are those classed as A1 or A2, which includes elements such as metal, stone and glass, which seldom contribute to fires; or plasterboard, which makes no significant contribution.

The third most highly ranked change sought by construction professionals was the installation and regular maintenance of sprinklers and other active fire detection and suppression equipment into all buildings.

New regulations only ranked sixth on the industry’s list of priorities.

Asked to score out of 10 their confidence that the UK’s approach to fire safety in all buildings would now change for the better, respondents on average went for 6 out of 10.

Contractors, specialist sub-contractors and building products suppliers are marginally more confident than other groups (average confidence score of 7 out of 10).

“Our research shows that the industry has taken to heart every opportunity to change its practice and is already well along a process that will change the way all buildings are procured, design, built and maintained,” said Nathan Garnett, event director at UK Construction Week.

“This is an issue that will be discussed widely at next week’s event, and is likely to remain the highest agenda item for years to come. While confidence is quite good at this time, we must do all we can to maintain the positive attitude and momentum behind these changes.”

Geoff Wilkinson, managing director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants, a fire safety and building standards expert and one of the speakers at this year’s UKCW seminar on quality in construction post-Grenfell, says:

“It is very encouraging to see the industry getting on with it, despite the hiatus from Government. But what’s needed is an industry-wide coordinated response.

“The ban on combustible materials is long overdue. We need to be told why it has taken over a year to get to this point when a very simple changing of regulatory guidance could have achieved the same thing in days.”


august figures

Government will lift the borrowing cap on councils to allow them to build many more homes

The Prime Minister’s announcement that the Government will lift the borrowing cap on councils to allow them to build many more homes is a victory for bold thinking and common sense, according to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). 

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “This is the most exciting, and potentially transformative, announcement on council housing for many years. It is something the house building sector and local authorities have been crying out for since the last economic downturn as a means by which to increase house building. Indeed, the only times the UK has built sufficient numbers of homes overall is when we’ve had a thriving council house building programme. Local authorities have a strong interest in delivering new affordable homes and many would have the appetite to directly fund this, but have been frustrated from doing so by an artificial cap on their ability to borrow against their assets to build homes. In a victory for common sense, Mrs May has now signalled that the borrowing cap will be scrapped to allow councils to build many more new homes.”

Berry continued: “We believe this could also have the added benefit of expanding the capacity of the private sector by providing more opportunities for SME builders. In this way, a stronger public sector house building programme can complement and help support a stronger, more diverse private sector. The private sector will continue to take the lead in delivering new homes, and to ensure it can do so, we need to continue to lay the foundations for a diverse private sector in which new firms can more easily enter the market and small firms can more easily prosper and grow. However, in order to deliver the number of new homes the Government is targeting it is going to be necessary for the private and public sectors to both be firing on all cylinders. That’s why this announcement is so welcome.”

Berry concluded: “However, as much as this is a bold and praiseworthy move by the Prime Minister, new homes of any sort will not get built if we as an industry don’t have the people we need to build them. Recent announcements on post-Brexit immigration rules, if implemented as currently understood, will be a serious threat to our ability to deliver on the promise of this policy. The failure of the Government so far to listen to the construction industry could unfortunately threaten the delivery of the Government’s increasingly bold moves to solve the housing crisis.”

Before the introduction of the cap under Margaret Thatcher, councils built around 10,000 homes a year – but that figure has subsequently dipped as low as 100. The amount of extra investment in housing could be around £1bn a year, but this is dependent on how many councils decide to borrow.

Source: / The Guardian


Combustible cladding over 18m to be banned

The Government has confirmed it is banning the use of all combustible cladding on new residential buildings over 18m.

New building regulations will be introduced for external wall systems banning plastics, wood and other products that include combustible materials found in some aluminium composite panel systems.

Materials that would be allowed are those classed as A1 or A2 under the European Classification system.

Hotels and office building would be exempt because they have different evacuation strategies and the risks are lower.

Full details of the proposed ban have yet to be released. It is still not known whether the ban would apply to any material in wall construction from the internal face of the wall through to its external face, as first proposed.

If this proved the case internal wallpaper and paint, window frames, gaskets and seals, vapour membranes, surface finishes and laminated glass would likely be exempted.

To comply with the stricter requirements, it is estimated that for a 15-storey new build requiring 1,700m2 of cladding, a wall system which comprises only materials of A2 will cost an extra £25,000-£75,000.

Across England, this would equate to an expected overall annual cost of £7.5m-£11m assuming average build rates, according to the Government.

The Communities Secretary James Brokenshire confirmed the decision at the Conservative Party Conference.

“I can confirm that I will change the building regulations to ban the use of combustible materials for all new high rise residential buildings, hospitals, registered care homes and student accommodation.

“And bring about a change in culture on building safety.”

The new ban will be implemented through changes to building regulations to be brought forward in late autumn.

The plan to tighten up on materials use on building exteriors came as the Government also issued a further warning that even small amounts of combustible ACM cladding fitted to existing buildings must be removed.

Fresh guidance from the Government’s expert panel revealed that some experts were mistakenly advising building owners that combustible ACM cladding could remain on high rise buildings when fitted to small parts or strips of the building envelope.

The guidance says: “We have become aware that some building owners have received advice that indicates that it is acceptable to leave small or partial amounts of ACM cladding on their buildings.

“Given the risk of fire spread posed by ACM cladding systems, the independent expert advisory panel’s view is that leaving any amount of ACM cladding on a building would continue to pose a hazard to both residents and firefighters in the event of a fire.

“The clearest way to ensure the safety of residents is to remove all ACM, including small or partial areas of ACM, and replace it with a safe material. This remains the most appropriate remediation solution.”

However, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the new regulations did not go far enough, claiming the move was “designed for political convenience”.

Class A2 materials such as plasterboard, which has limited combustibility, will continue to be permitted under the new rules.

Firefighters are calling for only A1 materials, which do not contribute to a fire at any stage – such as metal, stone and glass – be allowed.

The partial ban on combustible cladding will not be applied retrospectively to buildings that have already had the panels fitted.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “These measures do not deal with the existing cladding on nearly 500 buildings across England where people live and work every day.

“The government’s proposals only apply to buildings over 18 metres high, plus hospitals, care homes and student accommodation, when they should apply to all buildings, whatever their height or use.

“They continue to allow A2 materials, when they should permit only the highest standard of A1.”

Mr Wrack added: “This announcement is designed for political convenience, not for thoroughgoing change. The failings in the fire safety regime are far wider than just the materials used. The whole deregulated system and weak guidance needs to be overhauled.

“Many residents of high rise residential buildings and firefighters wanted more comprehensive action taken against flammable cladding. This government has failed to deliver.”

A spokesman for Mr Brokenshire said: “We are saddened to see the response of the Fire Brigades Union. We consulted on this very important matter and indeed went beyond what was asked of us.

“These measures will save lives, and we are clear building safety is at the very heart of what Mr Brokenshire is doing.”

Source: Construction Enquirer / The Independent


Fire regulatory system is ‘broken’

Shadow fire minister Karen Lee has said the fire regulatory system is broken and requires a radical overhaul, and “the government’s approach to the public’s safety in the 15 months since Grenfell has been characterised by inaction.”

Deregulation in the 1980s created a performance-based system, said Lee, in which “rather than prescriptive rule-making, the system outlines required outcomes, left open to industry to decide how they are met”. Lee said that successive governments had scrapped regulations at the expense of public safety and claimed that fire regulations had failed to hold industry accountable for their products.

“Building regulations relating to cladding assert that “external walls of the building[s] [should] adequately resist the spread of fire,” said Lee. “However, large-scale system tests and desktop studies allow for flammable cladding to be used despite this regulation. “The Fire Brigades Union, the Local Government Association, the housing, communities and local government select committee and the Royal Institute of British Architecture have all raised concerns with testing methods which allow the use of flammable cladding and insulation,” she said.

The solution according to Lee was a complete overhaul of fire safety. “The fire regulatory system is broken and requires a radical overhaul,” said Lee. Labour’s shadow minister also criticised the Hackett review set up in the wake of the Grnfell fire. “The government commissioned the independent Hackett review and presented it as an opportunity for fire safety reform following Grenfell. In reality, Hackett’s recommendations offered no change to regulations. The review acknowledged that existing regulations have caused the industry to “race to the bottom” but did not ban flammable cladding or the methods enabling its use,” Lee said.

Lee also questioned the panel of experts that advised the Hackett review. “It is important to note that the expert panel advising the Hackett review had members who had signed off the use of flammable cladding, such as the Building Research Establishment which delivers the testing that allows for installation of flammable cladding,” said Lee. “The Hackett review failed. The government then pushed the issue into another consultation on banning the use of flammable materials on external walls of high-rise residential buildings,” she said.

While she welcomed the consultation, Lee said that residents living in buildings wrapped in potentially dangerous cladding should not have to wait more than a year for their safety to be consulted on. As of August 16 2018, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has identified 466 buildings that still have Grenfell-like cladding installed. Lee claimed that the threat to these buildings mirrors that of Grenfell and the government needed to take urgent action.

RIBA have also proposed a post Grenfell fire safety plan of work, and have opened a consultation including a draft document that can be viewed here

It will be open until October 11, 2018 as a means to address concerns raised in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety. The review was launched as a response to the Grenfell Tower fire.

RIBA has used the proposed overhaul of its existing process guidance to try and incorporate key recommendations in the Hackitt review that have called for improved “transparency, accountability and collaboration” across the construction and building services industry.

RIBA director of practice Lucy Carmichael said that the draft Plan of Work set devised as a resource that can be adopted as broadly as possible by stakeholders working across design, construction and longer-term building management.

A key recommendation is to ensure the earlier involvement of building control, fire authorities, building managers and tenants. This could lead to increased costs for the client.

Project team accountability would be enforced through new statutory duties based on the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 model.

Proposed review and sign-off procedures, and independent inspection, would also help to safeguard fire safe specification and detailing, according to RIBA.

Source: / hvnplus / UK Construction Week


tough mudder

Broadsword take on Tough Mudder for charity

5 members of the Broadsword team are taking part in Tough Mudder this weekend to raise money for the Southampton Foster Carers Association.

The association offers activities and social events for fostering families and the children in their care. It gives additional help to foster carers with monthly support groups in two regions of the city.  The SFCA also provides newly approved foster carers with ‘buddies’ – putting them in contact with experienced carers who can offer advice and support when needed.

They organise annual events including fun days, barbecues, discos, day trips, a Halloween party and a Christmas grotto.

Tough Mudder is a 10 mile mud and obstacle course designed to test physical strength, stamina, and mental grit!

With no podiums, winners, or clocks to race against, it’s not about how fast you can cross the finish line, it’s about whether you make it across the line at all!!

I’m sure you’ll agree that this is an amazing charity and we’d like your help to raise as much money as possible and support the guys taking part in this tough challenge!

It couldn’t be easier to make a donation online via just giving! You can choose to support a particular individual or the team as a whole using the following link:

All donations would be gratefully received for this fantastic cause!

Remember to keep an eye on our Facebook page on Saturday for updates on everyone’s progress!