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The UK construction industry was charged with keeping the economic wheels turning during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as a second wave takes hold, the sector’s preparedness is paying dividends as evidenced by another superb month for new contract awards activity. Builders’ Conference CEO Neil Edwards analyses the results from the validated research carried out by Builders’ Conference.

When the first wave of the Coronavirus swept across the UK back in March this year, the UK construction sector suffered a barely perceptible lapse as it figured how it might work through a global pandemic. Having been identified early as “key workers”, the industry set in place extensive rules governing social distancing and quickly went back to work. In an industry built upon regulations, construction adapted swiftly to the new normal, embracing evolving guidance and developing new ways of working safely.

Which is just as well. With Coronavirus cases spiking once again and with localised lockdowns in place up and down the country, the lessons learned during the first wave are now being applied to allow the construction industry to take in its stride a second and even a third wave.

In the month ending 30 September 2020, Builders’ Conference aggregated information via its unique BCLive league table recorded more than £5.7 billion in new contract awards. Such a figure would be greeted with delight at any time. But amidst the growing concern over a possible return to lockdown, £5.7 billion is verging upon the miraculous.

The figure was unquestionably boosted by a single £1.0 billion contract awarded to Swan News Homes’ subsidiary NU Living for a mammoth project in Purfleet, Essex. That project, for client Thurrock Borough Council, is for the construction of 2,850 new homes together with a film and TV centre, upgrading of the train station and a new primary and secondary school with the works stretching out over a number of years.

In a month in which the house-building sector once again dominated, Wates Ltd claimed the second position on the BCLive league table with a three-contract haul worth a combined £617.6 million. The largest of these is a £600 million mixed-use development for client Harrow London Borough Council that comprises 400 new dwellings together with a 9,362 m2 open plan office and community space and a new council headquarters.

Laing O’Rourke claimed the number three position on the BCLive league table, courtesy of a single £300 million mixed-use development at Deansgate in Manchester for client Trilogy Property. That project involves the new build of 142 apartments together with retail and leisure facilities.

Court Collaboration took the number four position with a single £280 million project at the Bull Ring Trading Estate in Digbeth, Birmingham. This project requires the construction of 995 residential units comprising one and two bedroom apartments across seven cluster buildings.

The county of Kent might be braced prior to transforming from the Garden of England into the truck park of Europe, but a £200 million new build business park off Kingslanding Way in Tunbridge Wells offers some positivity. Won by U+I plc, that project will transform more than 12 hectares of green belt land into a new business community. Plans include 74,322 m2 of warehousing and office space in a parkland setting.

With a 17 project haul, Morgan Sindall reclaimed its crown of the contractor with the highest number of new contract awards. The most notable of these is a £32 million new build for a school for Southampton City Council.

Also notable this month was a £140 million new build office at Farringdon Road in Camden, London that will include 200,000 square feet of technology enhanced office space split across 1`0 storeys. That project, for client Helical Bar, was awarded to Mace.

Predictably, the house-building sector accounted for the lion’s share of new contract awards recorded in the month with a total of £2.1 billion divided between more than 160 projects. The miscellaneous sector – which will undoubtedly include some large elements of housing – was valued at £1.7 billion. Offices and education claimed the third and fourth slots with £731 and £348 million respectively.

Geographically, September 2020 was very much southern-focused with London delivering £1.63 billion in new work and Essex following close behind with more than £1.0 billion. Kent accounted for a further £337 million. The North West enjoyed an upbeat month with 40 new projects worth a combined £654 million. Meanwhile, West and East Midlands maintained their continued growth, contributing £384 and £254 million respectively. Sadly, Scotland is still struggling to shake off the after-effects of its prolonged lockdown, languishing with just £112 million in new work across 24 individual projects.

The pronounced imbalance between privately and publicly-funded projects remains; and the construction sector’s reliance upon house-building shows no signs of abating.

Despite all this, the industry has delivered another sterling set of figures amidst growing COVID-19 and Brexit uncertainty. Against that background, UK construction’s performance should be applauded, not questioned.

To view an exclusive video featuring Builders’ Conference CEO Neil Edwards discussing these latest figures, please see below: