The latest statistics on construction output have been released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and it’s fair to say that the strains are beginning to show.
Figures show output in the three-month on three-month series fell by 3.4% in April and it is now clear that the industry suffered quite badly over the winter period. Total new orders decreased over Quarter One, with a fall of some 4.6% across the industry;
This is the biggest fall since the latter stages of the recession in August 2012 and the so called Beast from the East has certainly played its part as it forced many construction sites to close in March. The drop in construction output can also be attributed to rising costs for construction firms. While wages are continuing to increase because of the acute skills crisis in our sector, firms are also feeling the pinch thanks to increased material prices. The depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum has meant bricks and insulation in particular have become more expensive. A recent survey showed 84% of builders believing that they will continue to rise in the next six months
The construction sector is heavily reliant on accessing an EU labour supply with more than eight per cent of construction workers coming from the Europe. So, it is about time the government told us what our options may be post Brexit. We cannot continue to operate in this zombie economy indefinitely.
Perhaps they have found the answer in the Netherlands, as I read that Eindhoven becomes the first city in Europe to print its own habitable residential homes. Contractors have apparently come up with a novel way to beat the lack of bricklayers, by employing the services of a new 3D printer which is due to print off its first five, two and three bedroom houses for rent next year.
The new construction method will apparently cut costs and reduce environmental damage by reducing the amount of cement used and is a collaborative project between the Eindhoven University of Technology and the Dutch contractors Van Wijnen. The cement is “printed” according to an architects design, continually building layer on layer of the compound to create new walls and improve strength. The printer itself is a large robot with a nozzle on the end of an extruder that squirts out the cement from an off-site plant creating the exterior and inner walls. These are then transported to site, although printing of M&E and drainage components will take place on site by this time next year.
Technology is undoubtedly revolutionising the construction of the Built environment in some remarkable ways, however in spite of the innovative house printing in Holland, the latest ONS numbers show we are not at the stage where we can yet do without tradespeople and their shortage is costing time and money. The sooner government realises and gives us some direction the better we can manage.