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'The new Birmingham is a remarkable tribute to the industry ... it's alive with construction and refurbishment and almost all of it is for the better'

Former Conservative Cabinet minister John Gummer MP puts construction under the spotlight

Speaking at last week's CBI conference in Birmingham I was pleased to see the increasingly significant role that the construction industry has to play within that organisation.

Now that it can speak with one voice, construction can be a very much more powerful force. This year, with so much work under way in the West Midlands, no other industry had a bigger or bolder way of keeping itself at the forefront of delegates' minds.

Good for Shepherd in winning the contract for the first construction phase of the Bull Ring redevelopment in Birmingham - the sight of that vulgar complex coming down should cheer everyone up.

Indeed the new Birmingham is a remarkable tribute to the construction industry. It can be proud of the Conference Centre itself, the regeneration of the canalside, the excitement of Brindleyplace and the imaginative way in which the city has broken out of the stranglehold of the Inner Ring Road.

It's alive with construction and refurbishment and almost all of it is forthe better.

Cementing an alliance

The new Rugby cement works will go live at the turn of the year.

It was featured in Construction News in April and last week I went to see how it had progressed. Rugby could not have set itself a more demanding task. The old works had to keep running, which further restricted an already limited site. Traditionally, the various cement process stages are built end to end. Here there wasn't the room, so the systems had to be designed to gain maximum efficiency from an unusual layout.

To get all this right 20 Rugby staff worked in Amec's local office for months, bringing cement-making knowledge to the constructors.

The result is a very handsome series of buildings, which deserves to win awards both for technical excellence and for design quality.

The mechanism by which Rugby overcame the technical and site difficulties, combined the expertise of both builder and client and met the strict environmental and planning brief is a model of what both Latham and Egan are seeking to achieve.

To do all that and to keep the old plant operating throughout is a real triumph. The sober truth is that only by this kind of co-operation will the British construction industry see off its competitors.

Designing out crime

Manufacturer Amptec has showed me an electric central heating boiler which seems to be particularly energy-efficient.

I admired the neat and unobtrusive design - a narrow box four or five feet long and six inches wide. It really doesn't look like a boiler at all - and that has turned out to be a great selling advantage, particularly for local authority refurbishments.

Apparently a major headache for councils is that scamps are stealing central heating boilers. Some councils are losing hundreds a year. A departing tenant slips his key to a mate, who nicks the boiler and sells it in the pub. Now the councils have discovered that, so neat is the Amptec installation, the thieves don't deem it worth stealing - they can't get anyone to believe it's actually a boiler!