by Richard McPartland
Economic uncertainty continued in 2017 with seemingly slow progress in Brexit negotiations giving clients and constructors pause. A commitment to move on to trade talks in 2018 is encouraging but progress will need to be swift to avoid the dangers of spooked firms activating contingency plans, freeing up office space, and sapping demand for new commercial projects.
Already there’s some evidence if not of the jitters, then certainly of some caution – 2017 saw the construction industry technically entering recession for the first time in five years. ONS statistics saw output fall by 0.9% in the period from July to September, following a 0.5% dip from April to June. This marks the first consecutive fall in output since 2012 and equates to a £361million. (In July to September 2012 output fell 1.6%, following falls of 4% and 3.2% in the preceding quarters). The dip was attributed to a decline in housing repair and maintenance as well as less private commercial new work.
The shadow of the Grenfell Tower tragedy also looms large over the year gone by, sparking national outcry and raising important safety questions for the industry, with the RIBA calling for an urgent review of fire regulations. The disaster also posed wider questions for society, particularly around social housing. The official enquiry, chaired by Sir Martin Moore-Bick will continue into 2018.
Even more change is on the horizon - drones, robots, virtual and augmented realities, 3D printing are all edging ever more mainstream
The industry is continuing to change the way it works and we can expect that continue apace in 2018. The NBS National BIM report showed that over 60% of respondents now use BIM, and 95% expect to within three years. To change a relatively static industry like construction in such a short period is nothing short of astonishing and is best in class at a global level.
As further evidence of an industry in flux, the CITB marked its exit from becoming a direct deliverer of training to becoming a commissioner of training delivery and outcomes in its Future CITB: Vision 2020 strategy following a departmental review and more details emerged on the T-levels that government must hope trains a new generation and helps to plug industry’s skills gap. And even more change is on the horizon – drones, robots, virtual and augmented realities, 3D printing are all edging ever more mainstream and superhero-esque suits are starting to take the strain on-site. Even our cities are getting smarter and as the Digital Built Britain agenda gathers pace we can expect still more to join their ranks.
There was some promising news on the housing shortage with the Chancellor keen to point out that the government is “delivering homes at record numbers – some 217,000 in the last year”. Department of Communities and Local Government figures showed 217,350 net additional homes were delivered in 2016/17, of which 183,570 were new build. The government has set itself a target of building one million new homes by 2020 and in the Autumn budget Philip Hammond unveiled plans to build 300,000 new homes a year – a level not achieved since 1970. The chancellor found an additional £15.3bn to provide support over the next five years and hoped changes to planning, stamp duty and investment in infrastructure will spur development.
The summer saw the launch of the NBS Online Viewer in Beta, harnessing the power of Autodesk’s Forge platform, to link models and specifications together via the NBS BIM Toolkit.
At NBS we began the year by announcing overseas expansion in Canada and Australia in response to customer demand. NBS CEO Richard Waterhouse said “UK organisations are looking for a single provider to support their work in international markets. It is a natural progression for NBS to develop our tools and expand our service offering to support both our UK customers and those in these exciting new markets.”
The summer saw the launch of the NBS Online Viewer in Beta, harnessing the power of Autodesk’s Forge platform, to link models and specifications together via the NBS BIM Toolkit. Removing the need for plug-ins or licences, the viewer has been well received as evidenced by the positive feedback received at Autodesk University Las Vegas in November.
We love hearing from practices about the projects they’re working on and the tools they’re using as part of their digital workflows. Throughout the year, we heard from JDDK, Ryder Architecture, FaulknerBrowns, BDP and Howard Russell Construction about the realities of a BIM approach. One of the key themes when we talk to many practices is the importance of manufacturer BIM objects and product information. This year has seen record numbers of BIM objects downloaded from the NBS National BIM Library and many new objects added to the site.
It’s worth mentioning that, even in a digital world, specification remains crucial. This year RIBAproductselector.com continued to grow its building products library for construction professionals with thousands of new entries added making it easy for specifiers to choose the right products for their projects.
It’s encouraging to see continued investment in training and professional development. RIBA’s CPD roadshow programme continued to prove popular in 2017 (and there’s another packed programme in store for 2018) and an array of new CPD materials added to the ribacpd.com site helping keep skills sharp. Our calendar of conferences and expos you won’t want to miss is worth a look to plan your development in the year ahead.
As we close out 2017, we’ve asked for contributors across the construction industry to offer their predictions and key trends to watch for in 2018 and launched our 2018 NBS Annual with some entertaining reading for over Christmas break. To make sure you don’t miss a thing in the year ahead, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
For now, all that remains is to wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous 2018.