There is now at least a nine month lead-in period to hire a tower crane, a threefold increase over the past 12 months.
Indeed, some crane hire firms report that they have orders through to 2010 with specialist cranes in particular demand.
While sourcing the right crane looks set to be a major challenge, there is another key criterion that must inform the selection process, one that some contractors may not take seriously enough.
If a development is due to occupy the entire footprint of a site it is likely that the cranes will at some point oversail adjacent land and properties.
Using the airspace above neighbouring land is the same as accessing that land at ground level - the express permission of the adjoining landowner must always be sought.
Permissions are invariably left in the hands of contractors and they can be far from straightforward.
Permission can be refused or - more commonly - adjoining landowners will request hefty compensation in return for access.
Avoid costly claims
Compensation for a crane oversailing is at the adjoining owner’s discretion - they can virtually ask what they want.
I had a compensation payment of £40,000 several years ago for just a small part of a crane that oversailed the edge of a roof for only a few months.
As with most oversailing cranes, it was only oversailing for safety purposes anyway.
Generally, requests for access for an oversailing crane are not to carry loads but for the crane to swing around when not in use to avoid any instability in the wind.
To avoid a costly claim, use of a crane with a luffing jib, as opposed to one with a fixed boom, and a re-assessment of the chosen methods of construction may be required.
But changes of this nature limit the weight and choice of materials that can be used and costs are then likely to increase.
In extreme cases the building may need to be redesigned to facilitate construction.
All this is highly problematic given that planning approval will have been granted and parameters set.
Permissions for cranes frequently end up being the contractor’s problem because developers assume an automatic right of access exists under current legislation.
This is not the case. Under The Party Wall etc Act 1996 there are some generous access rights, but not for cranes.
The Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 gives access rights for preservation only and therefore not generally for new development.
Access rights must be considered early in the planning process and well before the tendering of work.
A cost/benefit analysis should be undertaken to assess how best to proceed and contractors should check that permissions have been sought.
Permissions are a requirement and can prove extremely costly. If you are unsure, seek timely advice.
Jane Ballantyne is partner in commercial building consultant Malcolm Hollis