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The new decade may have started normally enough, with the outlook for construction looking relatively positive at the start of 2020, some Brexit uncertainties aside.
While concern about a potentially deadly virus originating
from China grew at the start of the year, there was little to suggest that its
emergence would impact the world of construction.
The year began with the opening of the second phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Lead counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC accused companies involved in the refurbishment of the building, completed before the 2017 blaze that left 72 people dead, of indulging in a “merry-go-round of buck-passing” as they issued their opening statements.
Otherwise though, it was more or less business as usual. Laing O’Rourke topped the news for the month after winning a deal to build the £200m St Michael’s scheme being developed by former Manchester United footballer Gary Neville, and there was even time to reminisce about construction in days gone by, with an extensive gallery of images charting the work of John Laing over the last century.
February brought with it the sad demise of 200-year-old contractor Symm & Company, and 120-year-old Harry Fairclough, but also offered a glimpse of the future as Skanska and Ikea exchanged contracts on their first three developments for their offsite homes venture BoKlok UK.
But attention was already starting to shift to China and the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak Wuhan, where a new hospital was constructed in just 10 days.
The UK’s own coronavirus lockdown followed shortly after in March, and despite government advice that construction could continue if social distancing measures were adhered to, many big names in the sector began to close down their sites.
As the industry grappled with the enormity of the changes, many firms furloughed a significant proportion of their workforce, while companies across the sector including Costain, Balfour Beatty and McLaren introduced pay cuts.
But the pandemic also provided construction with an opportunity to demonstrate its ingenuity and resilience, as contractors rapidly responded to the need to create extra hospital beds, building temporary hospitals across the UK, including in Birmingham, Yorkshire and Manchester.
Companies also started to find ways, using the Construction Leadership Council’s Site Operating Procedures, to re-open sites safely.
In July, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry resumed its hearings, with details of the proceedings, which at times have made for difficult reading for the construction industry, dominating CM’s traffic for the latter part of the year.
While sites may have gradually been able to return to operation, albeit with restrictions in place, getting some other major events in the construction calendar off the ground in 2020 required the help of technology. Mace’s Frank Connolly became the first person to win the title of Construction Manager of the Year at a virtual ceremony, while the inaugural winners of the the Rising Star Award were also revealed.
When it came to the biggest stories of the year, it was little surprise that features offering advice on how to handle the operational challenges presented by coronavirus, as well as the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, but there was space for stories not related to either of those two dominant themes too.
The top 10
- Can workers remain furloughed if they don’t have childcare in place?
- Non-essential construction site lockdown expected
- Coronavirus: Industry chiefs warn of site closures
- Images | World’s largest crane lifts 170t Hinkley reactor ‘liner cup’
- Clacton Pier clean-up begins after concrete pour collapse
- Video | Keltbray demolishes huge wind turbine with explosives
- Surveyor arrested selling covid-19 tests to construction workers
- Construction court gives first coronavirus decision
- Gary Neville’s £200m Manchester job goes to Laing O’Rourke
- Grenfell: Manufacturers ‘exploited ignorance for commercial gain’
CM wishes its readers a happy, healthy and prosperous new year and looks forward to informing and entertaining you in 2021.