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THE YEAR got off to a leaky start when flooding on a Bovis site in South Kensington caused major disruption to London Underground's nearby District Line. Bovis pointed the finger at Thames Water, and took legal steps to recover its costs.

Site disputes took a more serious turn when environmental protesters torched Costain's plant at the Newbury Bypass site, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of damage.

Electricians made the news when their rates topped £9 an hour. Sparks also flew on the Jubilee Line

Extension when Pirelli electricians threatened to strike over the introduction of self-employed labour.

Skills shortages were in the headlines with Irish firms planning a push to lure workers home to cope with an acute manpower famine.

And with just four months to go before new tax laws covering the self- employed were due to be

introduced, 40 per cent of firms approached in a Building Employers Confederation survey did not know what the changes meant.

Construction chiefs united at the end of the month to unveil plans for the 'Britain needs Building Campaign' aimed at improving the industry's image.

With site disputes, arson attacks and strike threats in the news, January showed that construction's image could do with a little sprucing up.