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Wars of steel

“I don’t need no civil war” - so sang American poet laureate Axl Rose back in the early ‘90s.

One finds it hard to imagine that many people in the British steel industry were humming along to Guns n’ Roses’ one and only peace ballad this morning. But they might just share the sentiment.

That’s because there is a potentially damaging split heading the way of the steel fabricating community, and it’s all down to China. Or, more specifically, the cheap Chinese rebar that’s been flooding the domestic market.

The row over the quality - or more accurately the usability - of Chinese rebar has been rumbling away in the background for some time, but it now looks to be coming to a head, with two very distinct groups facing each other across the steel ramparts.

In one corner, we have the major steel manufacturers and reinforcers, backed by their trade bodies UK Steel and the British Association of Reinforcement.

Squaring off against them are a small group of independent fabricators threatening, or so Construction News understands, to form a breakaway organisation.

The bone of contention is around what the indies see as a pernicious and deliberate campaign to smear the reputation of the Chinese imports.

A number of stories have crept into the press questioning the use of certain alloys, most notably boron, in the imported rebar.

While the technical stuff is somewhat beyond your correspondent (C in GCSE chemistry, thanks for asking), it seems the problem is the stuff’s weldability and, by implication, its safety.

But, say the other side amid cries of protectionism, all tested imports have met the agreed Cares standards.

However, following pressure from the industry, those standards are currently under review by the British Standards Institution, which could lead to a reassessment of the Chinese invasion.

It’s not hard to see where both sides are coming from. If there is an issue with safety, then that is clearly the primary concern. But until there is evidence to prove otherwise, one must trust in the approval given by the industry’s watchdog, Cares.

Furthermore, if you work in central London you only need to look out of the window to see the amount of steel rising up out of the ground. Any limit on free trade is only going to drive costs up further.

While this might be good news for some steel manufacturers, who have not had an easy time of it, extra cost pressure is the last thing main contractors need at the moment.

Just as some in our industry are finally learning the power of working together, it would be a backwards step if the steel family couldn’t get over their failure to communicate.

Ups and downs

While housebuilders are making hay, the biggest contractors are still suffering on the back of old contracts. Yesterday we had Redrow and ISG, today it’s the turn of Barratt and Bam Nuttall.

Work-life balance

Office-to-resi conversions have proved a boon to some contractors, but is the gold rush going to continue? Charlie Schouten finds out.

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