NMBS Conference: Construction too slow to change

Published:  22 June, 2012

SPAIN: Ninety-nine per cent of the UK construction industry is made up of SMEs and that is an area that will be the slowest to change, said Paul Morrell, chief construction advisor to the Government.

Speaking at the NMBS Conference today, Mr Morrell was more pessimistic than fellow speaker Anthony Hilton. He warned now is the time when radical change is needed.

"We are in an extraordinary period of turnaround," he said. There are 300 million people in China learning to speak English. They aren't doing that so that they can produce bits for the West. They will move into towns or towns will be built for them. I'm 65 and never remember anyone telling me that materials would run out.

"We need new thinking. The big challenge is about money, public procurement and sustainable construction. With the extremely slow pace of technological change and this industry's lack of take-up, we need to have an industry that is fit for purpose."

As an example, he cited the resurfacing of the Great Kanto Highway in Japan following the tsunami. "They did it in six days.

"Complexity, he believes, is the enemy of progress. That, and an adherence to old hierarchies.

"There are fatal fractures between design and building at present and the management of construction. We start projects without knowing how they will finish. Buildings miss their targets so widely that, in football terms, they do a Hesky."Meanwhile, Mr Morrell said, clients are struggling.

"We're in a low innovation industry that is too far removed from where the money is spent. The real issues are giving value in service delivery.

"There are 100 000 people living on the streets in the UK and 4.5 million waiting for housing. If we had a war on we'd be building pre-fabs."

The issues are standards – solving problems; benchmarking (at present, some projects are two times as expensive as other comparable sites); transparent costs; new procurement models (standardisation means less waste); mobilise intelligence; integration; development of the supply chain; trial projects and do things in new ways and speeding up payment.

"The Government is publishing a 'pipeline' of future works. Yes, the Government does get it and is being more prescriptive."

The role of BIM (Building Information Management) said Mr Morrell means the industry will be working with shared data.

BIM is a process involving the generation and management of a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. The BIM becomes a shared knowledge resource that supports decision-making about facilities for the early design stages through design and construction and then throughout its operational life. "It's a push-pull strategy," Mr Morrell said.

"Looking ahead - what stock do you hold, where will it come from? How do you deliver materials? What are Green Deal's opportunities and challenges? There are not enough vans to service 25 million homes.

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