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Hammond: Tackle the burning platform offsite

Advanced manufacturing or offsite construction, call it what you will, is “unequivocally” the way forward according to British Land’s chief executive. 

Quizzed by Andrew Neil at yesterday’s CN Summit, Chris Grigg talked about using an offsite approach for the Cheesegrater with Laing O’Rourke and how it had taken a similar approach on its super-prime resi and commercial Clarges development in Mayfair.

One, an iconic London building forever wedded to London’s skyline. The other, a scheme where apartments went for tens of millions of pounds at a time.

Components for both high-end schemes, developed in a manufacturing facility in Steetley, Nottinghamshire. 

Offsite dominated debate over two days at the CN Summit. Everyone wanted a piece of it. But that’s not to say it’s the answer to everyone’s productivity problems.

“We are trying to do it more and more, but there are times when a more conventional approach will be the right one,” said Mr Grigg.

The previous day, Mark Farmer had given an insightful talk as to why the current model had to change.

Yes, Laing O’Rourke had attributed problems with offsite as a factor in recent losses, he said. But they were ahead of their time. The market wasn’t ready.

Is it now?

Heathrow’s expansion programme director Phil Wilbraham was able to elaborate on the airport’s search for hubs, after CEO John Holland-Kaye spoke earlier that day.

The hubs will be used to assemble component parts from existing factories and could be a game-changer. 

Asked whether Gatwick could use the hubs, Mr Wilbraham’s answer could be paraphrased as ‘sure, if they bloody well pay for it’.

Turning to HS2 lead bridge engineer Tomas Garcia (who didn’t have the advantage of speaking after his chief executive), Mr Neil roared: “Why aren’t you doing what Heathrow are doing?” 

His views on whether they should follow Heathrow’s lead aside, HS2 is specifying a suite of bridge design standards for the 350 bridges required between London and Birmingham so contractors can build them offsite (rather than a bespoke bridge being built each time).

Clients were unanimous in their praise for the offsite approach, and then, as if the chancellor has been following #CNSummit throughout the two days, the Budget document dropped with some positive affirmation.

“Building on progress made to date, the Department for Transport, the Department of Health, the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defence will adopt a presumption in favour of offsite construction by 2019 across suitable capital programmes, where it represents best value for money.”

Mealy-mouthed? Maybe. But significant? Certainly. Government has taken note of the burning platform. Now if only we could believe everything it says on spending plans…

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