Is infrastructure the best current UK construction opportunity?
The construction industry has been divided since the start of lockdown as to whether sites should remain open or closed. Some main contractors such as Balfour Beatty and Kier continued to operate sites, while others such as Mace rolled out a nationwide shutdown. Now, many of the construction firms that decided to close are making plans to start reopening sites. The need to get productive once again is certain, but can this be achieved with a strangled supply chain, while maintaining social distancing and other additional new safety requirements?
Opportunities in road, rail, and smart infrastructure
One suggestion that has been put forward is to fast track the installation of smart metering systems in new buildings, as part of sites reopening. Smart metering installations typically don’t require as many onsite workers as standard construction and testing of systems is usually done remotely in any event. There has been much talk about using technology to bridge the gap between onsite work and productivity and this could be an opportunity to achieve exactly that.
Some have suggested that now with reduced traffic on the roads, is the ideal time to carry out repairs and maintenance on major routes that are normally subject to heavy congestion. It certainly makes sense. Given the constraints under which main contractors are currently working, should those with major infrastructure contracts be focusing what resources they can put to work on completing infrastructure repairs and projects while the opportunity exists?
Many were surprised when appointed main contractors for HS2 announced that work would forge ahead after getting parliamentary confirmation earlier in April. It seemed contrary to the site closure that many construction firms were starting to implement nationwide. Excavation works in and around Birmingham and other key sites for HS2 have progressed despite the pandemic and public speculation. As many major infrastructure projects have been plagued by endless delays in the past, could this be an opportunity to improve productivity and help get the construction industry back up and running faster? Should other rail and road infrastructure projects be taking a page from their book?
Nobody knows when the crisis will end and the future seems more uncertain than ever. But was the future ever certain? Were projects, productivity and profits ever guaranteed? No. While these may be unusual times, opportunities still exist and are worth focusing on, despite the challenges.