How Will The Construction Sector Change Over The Next 5 Years?

How Will The Construction Sector Change Over The Next 5 Years?

With Brexit looming, the future of the construction sector is uncertain. One thing, however, is clear. Planning applications need to be processed much faster. With 50% of the UK economy dependent on construction the unnecessary delays caused by planning departments to large projects are significantly slowing the wider economy down.

Property Expert Series: Grant Erskine From Grant Erskine Architects

Brexit and The Construction Sector

Amy: We’re going to move on now and I’m going to start asking you about more technical stuff regarding what you actually do. That way we can tap into your knowledge and share that with our audience.

So, firstly, I’d like to ask your opinion on what you think will change in the construction sector over the next few years?

Grant: The big thing that is looming on the horizon is Brexit and the impact it’s going to have. It’s the money in peoples’ pockets, businesses, service providers. The whole strata of society.

There’s a belief that over 50% of the spend in the UK is directly related to the construction industry. So, there’s the construction itself but also the manufacturing, haulage and the services around it such as HR, payroll and accounting.

How is Brexit going to affect the industry? I’m afraid I don’t have a crystal ball.

Amy: Obviously, everybody is talking about Brexit. This is something I have discussed with other people in previous interviews, specifically with regards to tax and finances. And it is impossible to know. It’s impossible to look into the future.

Grant: It’s like with everything. There will be opportunities for some people and there will be some pain for others. It’s simply a case of how we adapt our businesses to accommodate it.

Planning Permission

Grant: The construction sector does need a bit of a shakeup. The biggest challenge that we have – and this is a bit of a standing joke – is around planning and planning permission.

On the one hand, we have politicians saying that we are going to build X amount of tens of thousands of houses in the next X amount of years. But on the other side of the equation, we have the rock face and the planning departments.

Now, the planning departments have a difficult job – something of a poisoned chalice. They were downsized in the recession and they’ve not been brought back to the size that they need to be. They don’t have the resources to deal with the workload.

This is me being kind. You could also say they’re bloody lazy and don’t do any work.

But let’s keep with being kind. They have a lot of work to do and they can’t get everything done. So the average planning application takes probably between 12 and 13 weeks, from us submitting it to us getting it back.

Sometimes, however, it can take nine months. I’ve ended up ringing the planning office quite a few times. One time the lady I spoke to got quite angry, saying, ‘I have lots of work to do. Your’s is not the only one on my desk’.

The problem with this kind of response is that the knock-on effects of a delay are not being taken into account. If the planning department is too busy to approve an application that means that the builder is not starting on-site. It means he is not getting paid. It means the I’m not getting paid. It means orders are not being placed with the manufacturing company.

The network below the yes or no answer by the planners is absolutely massive.

Amy: I don’t think they realise the implications that their delays are having on the wider network, not just for your project but for our general ability, as a society, to build houses and meet the demand for housing.

Grant: And it continues all the way down. The builder takes the money home and spends it in the shop. The money continues going, getting recycled down, down, down.

So, that lack of movement that comes from delays caused by the planning departments has an impact right the way across the economy. For me, this is the big changes that we need to see in this industry. The planning system doesn’t necessarily need to fundamentally change but it does need to speed up. Decisions need to be made in 8 or 9 weeks, not 15, 16 or 17 weeks.

Amy: One of the most challenging aspects of what I do when working in the social marketplace is bridging the gap between the public and the private sectors. They are poles apart in the ways that they work.

The private sector is a lot more efficient. If we did a planning application we’d have it done in a day and turn it around but in the public sector works very differently.

I think one of the biggest challenges we encounter across any business is trying to work well together.

Social enterprise would be a good way to bridge the gap but we need to see how it fits with housing and house building.

Grant: The other big thing is, there is a certain amount of institutionalisation. I’m sure every builder will tell you stories of not being able to get a planning officer on the phone before 10 o’clock in the morning.

Amy: Well, I used to work for the council so I’m not going to say anything at this point but I can empathise. You know, don’t bother ringing on a Friday afternoon.

Grant: If it was the private sector it would be different. People work in a performance-based way. If you don’t get paid until you do something, you get it done quicker. That’s how we work in the private sector. With councils, it’s just a bit of nonsense in my mind, sometimes.

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