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Modernise or die? A real example

Zak Garner-Purkis

Mark Farmer’s 2016 assessment of the construction industry was stark: the sector was in bad health.

Things needed to change – and fast.

Since then there have been further dramatic and high-profile condemnations of the sector and its business model.

Last June the Grenfell tragedy put the industry’s specialist contractors under the spotlight, as well as the way in which materials are sourced.

Then in January the liquidation of Carillion was cited as a damning indictment of tier one business models.

All of which suggested things still needed to change fast.

Both of those events have prompted rhetoric about how business can be done differently.

There have been countless soundbites from senior figures about “wake-up calls” and “catalysts for change”, but finding tangible results is difficult.

Many argue that this is because the transformation the industry requires needs to be driven by clients.

After all, they are the ones holding the purse strings.

The trouble is that some are unwilling to engage with the process; others distrust the industry or are only interested in the cheapest bid.

Step forward developer U+I.

This is a client that is actively trying to do things differently – and can point to tangible examples in the running of its projects.

On £300m-worth of developments down in Brighton, U+I has chosen two progressive approaches to construction, as its director of delivery Mark Richardson explained to me this week.

Its £100m Circus Street scheme is committed to project bank accounts, while U+I has broken work on its £200m Preston Barracks down into smaller packages and is working directly with local subcontractors.

“It’s a real example of what Mark Farmer and others are advocating,” Mr Richardson told me when discussing the Circus Street scheme.

It’s only through these real examples that the industry can be modernised in the way Mr Farmer envisioned.

The alternative future he set out is one nobody wants to see. 

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