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19 Mar, 20 / post / News
3 Ways COVID-19 Will Impact On Construction

Talking with industry professionals and business leaders, and looking at the wider picture (before the UK Government takes further actions to reduce movement), there are clear impacts that COVID-19 is likely to have on the construction industry in quite a short period of time, and leave a legacy.

Is this not an opportunity for us to think about how we can keep things moving now (until the UK Government tightens rules) and be flexible and positive about delivering to society in the future?

There are three effects that COVID-19 will certainly have on construction projects:

1. Availability of Building Materials


Around 60% of our building materials come from the EU and approximately 17% come from China. So at some point soon this will have an adverse effect – materials will have longer lead in times, or reduced availability.

A lot of the Chinese products required for UK construction projects were already en route in container ships before lockdown. Based on an average journey time of up to 30 days, any gap in supply of materials from China is probably starting to be felt now or will be imminently.

There is going to be a need for flexibility in construction programmes, to ensure delays and disruption is managed without penalties. Specifications may need to change, and so flexibility in choices both from the specifier and client will be required.

Specifying British products, manufacturers and supply chains can assist with this. Any equivalent materials that can be sourced locally will help avoid the need to extend project timescales even further.

Inevitably, issues with supply will no doubt drive the prices up. That said, increased prices were anticipated with the EU trade negotiations; we were hearing that some quantity surveyors were including a “Brexit percentage” to avoid shocking the project when finally instructed.

2. Labour


Health and safety is paramount, and contractors are considering (if within their contract) notifying clients and project teams of delays to projects due to ‘force majeure’.

For now, there is still work to be done. Site inspections are being carried out by some inspectors virtually, but where the site is in effect ‘open air’ inspections are continuing.

While Government allows, the employer must decide if their workforce can stay safe. Good hygiene practice and keeping distance, perhaps even having teams on rota to reduce numbers and proximity on site, could keep many sites still moving forward for now, until the Government rule otherwise.

3. Future Projects

Last year was hard enough for the industry, with many clients only instructing projects to a pre-construction or even just planning stage, and then not progressing further due to political and trade uncertainty.

We heard there was optimism and progress at the start of 2020, and were looking forward to seeing some of the many feasibility projects that QS colleagues had been delivering during 2018/19 get instructed to go forward.

The requirement is there, and we need confidence in the future. Of course there’s going to be uncertainty and caution from investors and funders. But we still need homes, educational and medical buildings as basics within society. And people need spaces and facilities in which to enjoy their leisure time.

Only last week we were at the South East Construction Breakfast, hearing about local councils urgently needing to increase delivery of homes before they slip below their housing targets, with the subsequent increase to their target, or moving to a presumption of sustainable development.

Given the unprecedented situation we find ourselves in, our industry will have to brace for impact, but we need to think creatively and now is the time to start preparing for when we come out the other side – when our communities, industries and the wider economy begin to recover.

The housing deficit will still exist, and we will still need to build. Normal service will resume in terms of the available workforce and supply of materials. In addition, interest rates will be kept low to encourage recovery, thereby making funding for projects more accessible. All of this is helpful to remember in the context of longer-term construction goals.

Is there not also an opportunity to refurbish or retrofit those buildings where businesses are already closed to customers, to reduce future running costs? Funding, availability of construction teams and safe working environments on site (to prevent the spread of COVID-19) would all have to be carefully considered, but it could be a viable option to keep contractors working and enable some much needed retrofit work that benefits the billpayer.

Time is a valuable commodity and we are realistic that practices like ours might have more of it while COVID-19 delays existing and future projects.

All of us want to keep working and design teams wish to keep the future funnel of construction filled, so that there are projects – to use that phrase ‘oven-ready’ – once movement of people allows it.

To achieve this, clients and investors need to progress projects from feasibility through to planning approvals. Getting the details of projects completed now could be fortuitous, if clients are fortunate enough to be able to make a judgment call now and commit to them.

The team at Cityzen would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our colleagues across the construction industry the very best for the coming weeks and months. We know it’s going to be tough, so if there’s anything we can do to help, please get in touch.
About the author
john smith
Architectural Technologist, Building Services Engineer Director at Cityzen & Lecturer at Brighton University
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