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After a tumultuous year construction in 2023 is showing signs of levelling off. We recently ran a webinar with Building magazine about the 2023 construction trends in UK construction. An expert panel made up of: Allan Wilen, Economics Director at Glenigan; Simon Rawlinson, Head of Strategic Research & Insight at Arcadis; and Benedict Wallbank, Head of BIM Strategy and Partnerships at Trimble Viewpoint. The panel discussed what they think the next 12-months holds for construction, with trends including a reimagining of office space, dispute resolutions, and much more. We’ll delve into a few of them below.
As Allan Wilen talked through the Glenigan economic forecast, it showed stability across supply chain costs, but also supply chain materials availability. Throughout 2021 and 2022, the construction supply chain saw a heavy knock on effect from Brexit delays and the war in Ukraine. Although the impact of yet to be completely resolved, we are closer to seeing some sort of stability although as Alan Willan from Glenigan notes, this stability comes at a high level of cost, “Similarly with material prices, after the initial sharp upward spike, as we came out of the pandemic, things were stabilising and we had another upward spike last year, really in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine. Again, they seem to be stabilising, albeit at a much higher level than they obviously were a couple of years ago.”
Over the past few months, there has been a steady rise in repair and maintenance works in the construction sector. In particular office refurbishments are expected to be one of the largest areas of construction within the next year. The pandemic and changing offers requirements coupled with the need to update a large amount of offices previously built in the late 80s early 90s is fuelling this change. Allan elaborates, “As we've come out of COVID looking at their office space requirements, making sure that they're supporting collaborative working. So when people are in the office, they're engaging with each other, you get those real benefits from working together”.
However, this isn’t something that is necessarily a reflection on the economy. Simon Rawlinson argues that the housing market often follows an ebb and flow pattern, depending on demand. Rawlinson argues it relates to “mostly them choosing to reduce the rate of production on site relative to their sales rates. So if sales rates improve, they'll increase their build rates. So that that sector, you can almost leave it to look after itself because if it sees any signs of improvement, it'll pick up”
Rawlinson also explains that the rise of industrial projects over the past two years can’t be understated both from the manufacturing and logistics sides. As it has faced – in Rawlinson’s words – an “explosive” rate of growth, it is inevitable that there will be some slowing down in the sector. Rawlinson also notes that projects in the industrial market “are very fast projects. They tend to be completed quite quickly and therefore they can switch off abruptly”. The headwinds that logistics have faced from both their exposure to inflation and asset value reductions could cause a slowdown, although there is no real sign of it dropping off yet.
Construction sites and businesses are beginning to use construction technology for larger parts of their operations. As usage increases, so does the amount of project data across the industry. Ben Wallbank states that there will be an accelerated importance on the democratisation of data in the coming year. “It’s a hard nut to crack” Ben states, “we are not there yet but this year we'll see more steps taken towards that freely available data that can be exchanged between products and interpreted usefully.” Ben concludes, “I do see things really starting to move”.
Simon adds that, “information management around gateways of building safety is critical” and that the industry needs to collaborate to make that data available across contractual barriers and importantly, interpretable.
If you pay attention to the news, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the UK construction sector is in a constant state of unrest. There is doubt that there will be some challenges both short-term and long-term facing the sector but, as the experts alluded to, there are plenty of positives that are expected to surface this coming year. From increased productivity on site to more infrastructure starts, we have only scratched the surface of what is expected to continue and develop during 2023.
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