Spring Newsletter 2023

In this issue:

Martin Arnold Achieve Champion status for Building a Safer Future

We are delighted and are extremely proud to announce that following receipt of the Building Safety Stage One certificate, awarded to us by Building a Safer Future [BSF] and Dame Judith Hackitt herself, we have now successfully progressed forward and have been recognised and awarded as a Building a Safer Future Champion!

Roger Arnold & Ross Hailey collecting our Award

We are especially proud of this achievement because we are one of the first companies and the first Multidisciplinary Construction Consultant, to receive this award and we feel it represents all the hard work that everyone in our organisation has done and is doing everyday together, in collaboration to put Building Safety first.

In order to receive this accolade we have had to demonstrate with evidence that we adhere to a set of comprehensive corroborating elements expectations critical to building safety. We have been independently assessed and validated to confirm that we maintain and seek to exceed the benchmarks required.

Dame Judith Hackitt, said of the Champions  “Their leadership and the benefits they can demonstrate already from setting out on this journey should be a wake-up call to everyone else to get onboard.”

Our Champion status lasts for 2 years, but we are determined to continue to demonstrate that our approach to building safety across our work, our organisation and our culture supports and encourages our commitments. We are worthy BSF Champions but – most importantly – we want to encourage and support others to place building safety as the top priority in all construction projects we are involved in.

Any company in the value chain or life cycle of a building is eligible to apply and we encourage our clients, contractors, and peers to apply to become BSF signatories and demonstrate your own support for the 5 key building safety commitments.

  1. Collaborate to spearhead culture change & be the voice of building safety across our sector,
  2. Be transparent in the interests of safety, sharing key information usefully with, residents, clients, contractors and statutory bodies in a useful and accessible manner in the design, construction and occupation phases of the process,
  3. Make safety a key factor of choice in who we work with, ensuring that building safety is placed at the centre of selection decisions without compromising quality or value for money.
  4. Ensure that the voices and safety of residents, visitors and employees are central to our decision making process
  5. Set out and communicate clear responsibilities within our organisation and with our partners, ensuring everyone with a stake in the building during design, construction and occupation understands their role and has the time and resources they need to achieve and maintain building safety. We urge you to start your journey and become a Building a Safer Future Signatory and eventual Champion  https://www.buildingasaferfuture.org.uk/

Case Study: White Horse Leisure Centre

Martin Arnold Ltd were invited by the Vale of White Horse District Council to participate in the exciting opportunity to design White Horse Leisure Centre expansion along-side the Centre’s Operator, Greenwich Leisure Limited.

The key design challenge of the project was to achieve the right balance between the amount and the scale whilst using the appropriate material which would complement the shape of the proposal, provide canvas for locally created artwork allowing for deeper connection with the local area, and to put a clear emphasis on the main entrance area which appeared to be lost within the volume of the existing building.

Once the amount, scale and the shape of the proposed extension was established, the choice of Profilit glazing – which due to its nature (narrow steps of glass of up to 7m long) could provide defused natural light and a certain level of privacy whilst potentially serving as an ‘art canvass’ – seemed very obvious.

The ’extraction’ of the main entrance was achieved by the use of still structure canopy providing – apart from signposting’ of the entrance – shading, as well as the frame for the locally designed and crafted artwork which takes advantage of natural light which filters through leaving ‘coloured footsteps’ on the ground.

Added value:
  • contemporary design solution resulting in enhanced appearance / ‘new face’ of the leisure centre
  • high quality additional floor space for gym enthusiasts
  • clearly defined main entrance area emphasised by the new canopy incorporating locally designed and crafted art work
  • improved internal facilities including existing gym space, changing rooms and creche
  • prime outcome achieved within budget and time constraints

Mayor of London Mandates Second Staircases

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ (DLUHC) consultation to make it mandatory for all new residential buildings over 30m (approximately 10 storeys) to have a second staircase is drawing close to its conclusion.

This strategy is in response to suggestions that more people may have escaped the Grenfell tragedy if there had been a secondary exit route, although it was not one of the recommendations made in the Hackitt Review’s Building Safer Futures report.

The paper indicated that there would only be a short transition period and urged “all developments to prepare for this change now” and the lack of clarity over detail and timing of this statement has thrown the sector into some confusion as how best to move forward and at what cost?

Meanwhile, the Greater London Authority have announced, with immediate effect, that all residential buildings over 30m within London would require a second staircase before any Stage 2 referral, although the statement noted that buildings with only one staircase that had been approved before 23 December 2022 would still be eligible for GLA affordable housing grants.

Whilst this clarity from the GLA has been welcomed by many, there is still much debate over the height at which a second staircase is required. Whilst the government and the GLA are suggesting 30m, the National Fire Chiefs Council [NFCC] believes that a second staircase is required from 18m due to the advantages it brings for fire crews tackling fires and dealing with evacuations.

The NFCC are proposing to widen the scope of the proposed regime of ‘high risk’ residential buildings from 30m down to 18m based upon their own advice, data and evidence that, despite the prevalence of stay put policies in building design, many residents make a choice to evacuate. The NFCC shared that Incident Recording System data on mass evacuations shows that from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2022, the London Fire Brigade reported 154 cases where 10 or more people evacuated from a block of flats of at least six storeys. This means nearly 8,500 residents chose to evacuate buildings rather than stay put, either before, during, or after the fire and rescue service arrived.

Schemes which had previously been granted outline planning permission will now have to go back to the drawing board with plans reconfigured to accommodate the second stair and restart the planning process.

This will have an obvious implication on a project’s timescale and potentially lead to delays in work starting on site, with developers attracting extra design costs to deal with the changes.

As well as the expense of additional design fees, there are also considerable cost implications for the development itself. Developers are essentially left with two options for reconfiguring their schemes:

  1. lose available living area to accommodate the second staircase, or
  2. increase the building’s footprint to maintain the number of apartments/bedrooms available for rent or sale.

Working within existing envelopes to accommodate a second stair has a negative effect on the saleable area. On schemes that we are currently working on, we are seeing the loss of at least one bedroom or an entire flat per floor to accommodate the extra circulation space and core. For developers in London, in real terms this amounts to an approximate loss of 200 sq ft. per storey. For a ten-storey building, this equates to a sales loss in excess of £2 million at £1,000/sq ft.

Clearly this will have a fundamental impact on scheme viability and we believe that developers are likely to look to change the mix of affordable housing first, to accommodate the extra stair and mitigate the loss to the overall gross development of the project. In this scenario, even if developers can incorporate a second staircase and mitigate the impact on scheme viability, Planning Approval is still required to deal with the changes in mix, so there will be a real time delay to these projects. We are estimating these delays at 6 to 12 months, which will undoubtedly come at further costs to the developer.

As an alternative to incorporating the extra staircase, developers are looking to add the staircase to a building, increasing the building’s size. Using the same example as above the same extra 200 sq ft. per storey, over a ten-storey building, equates to an overall increase in build cost starting from £250,000 for a simple staircase alone.

Clearly this seems to have a lesser effect on the overall scheme viability as the sales area remains the same, and this might be a preferred route for many developers who see changing the form and size of the building a better solution than changing the mix. However, it is worth noting that, in this scenario, Planning Approval may be more difficult to achieve due to the change in form and mass of the building. Real time delays to projects adopting this strategy is more likely to be in the region of 12-18 months, again resulting in further costs to the developer.

It is estimated that these measures will cost the construction industry £1.6bn over the next decade and in the short and medium term will negatively affect the supply of affordable housing, to mitigate this risk which provides another challenge to dealing with the housing crisis. We look forward to reviewing the results of the DLUHC consultation and hope that this will provide the clarity and timescales to move forward. However, we are cautious that even now at this late stage, the debate over a 18m or 30m minimum height is a key factor that continues to create confusion and conflict in this debate over building safety.

Tender Prices & Market Commentary

The Bank of England has determined that Britain has fallen into a recession which may last until 2024. The monthly real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated to have fallen by 0.5% last December and is predicted to fall by 1.2% compared to the previous year. The Bank of England and Chancellor also forewarn a more significant economic impact caused by the global energy crisis.

Inflation continues to outstrip increases in pay and benefits, affecting all aspects of household spending with real household disposable income set to fall by around 7% over the next two years. Changes to the Energy Price Guarantee scheme from April 1st are likely to see support for some households continue but will keep pressure on inflation for the first half of the financial year. The Energy Bill Relief Scheme packages for businesses are expected to be restructured and reduced, which could adversely impact the economy.

The demand for construction activity is expected to weaken. According to a recent FMB survey, there has been a slowdown in workloads and enquiries, particularly in private housing, with private residential starts weakening as developers shift their focus to building out existing projects. Glenigan’s Construction Review also showed a 47% decrease in residential starts from November 2022 to January 2023 compared to the preceding quarter and 33% compared to the same time a year ago. This may be partly due to the government softening its target of building 300,000 homes a year in 2022 and secondary legislation from the Building Safety Act coming into effect. Major project starts (projects over £100m) fell by 64% against the preceding three months and 39% compared to the previous year. Main contract awards decreased by 21% compared to the preceding period and were 16% lower than the same time a year ago. Detailed planning approvals decreased by 18% against the preceding three months and 2% from a year ago.

Mixed growth rates are expected for the housing market over the 2023-27 period. Private housing growth is projected at an annual average rate of 2.1%, while public housing is expected to grow at a slower 1.1%. However, new housing output is anticipated to drop in 2023 due to a 0.9% month-on-month contraction last October. This contraction can be attributed to the mini-Budget, which increased interest rates and drove up mortgage payments, and chronic shortages of labour which will affect delivery. Overall, construction output is predicted to decline by 6.2% before gradually reviving in 2024.

The UK construction sector is contending with prolonged job vacancies and low levels of unemployment. This skills gap became more conspicuous after Brexit, with 266,000 extra individuals needed to complete projects in progress. In response, CITB have invested almost £50m Levy funds towards helping over 22,000 apprenticeships and dedicated £97m in grant funding as incentives for employers recruiting and retaining talented employees.

There are still growing concerns about the shortage of skilled workers increasing labour costs. Labour supply issues have increased to 65%, with nearly 90% reporting increased labour rates due to the cost-of-living crisis. Estimates suggest that, by 2024, these costs will have risen 8.1%, with wage increases of up to 13.5% for particular trades such as demolition and scaffolding. Additionally, labour expenditures are likely to rise due to keep up with living costs. According to projections, wage contracts could climb by 8% in 2023.

Moreover, insolvencies are reducing the availability of contractors. In August 2022 alone, 337 UK construction firms became insolvent, bringing the total number of insolvencies up to 3,944 in the year leading up to that month.

Construction material pricing has spiked, with steel products experiencing the highest rate of inflation. However, there has been some relief in recent months as the main driver of material prices shifted from commodity pricing to fuel costs. This shift was further exacerbated by interruptions to gas supplies that encouraged smelters to switch plants off, reducing output and keeping prices higher. The concrete market is now the key driver of inflation in the materials price index due to raw material cost increases, rising energy/fuel costs, and driver shortages. Additionally, demand for GGBS due to sustainability goals has pressured concrete rates.

The global scarcity of semiconductors is leading to longer delivery times and higher prices in numerous sectors including construction, causing businesses to reduce repair and maintenance works. Several companies have delayed certain repair projects due to the exorbitant cost of supplies. The London Metal Exchange All Metal Index has been dwindling since the onset of the war in Ukraine, while energy prices are still driving up costs for semi-processed metals.

The BEIS Construction Material index has declined from 26.5% in June to 16%, though material costs are still predicted to increase by 9-10%. Contractor expectations suggest that material costs could increase by 10.3% over the next year. However, material costs are becoming more manageable and extended lead times less problematic. Fortunately, proactive steps to source alternative supplies and reduce the inflationary impacts of the Ukraine conflict should drive prices down over time.

TPI Overview
Material prices are expected to decrease slightly by 0.8%, while building costs are likely to rise by 2.5%. Tender prices may also see a marginal increase of 1.1%. Additionally, the annual rate of general inflation is expected to decrease to 6.6% by the end of 2023. Interest rates are forecast to reach 4% by the end of 2023 with significant implications for businesses and consumers alike. Global forces, such as the ongoing war in Ukraine and fluctuations in the Chinese economy, could also affect market conditions in unforeseen ways. Green initiatives aimed at energy-saving measures may also have an impact on market trends.

Case Study: Woodbank Road

The Woodbank project saw the delivery of four affordable homes (2no. 2bed/4p and 2no. 3bed/5p) in the form of terraced houses which replaced the original building which had been demolished due to concerns about its structural safety.

This is a Secured by Design and Lifetime Homes Standard compliant scheme with one of the 3 bedroom unit’s adapted to full wheelchair user standard from day one.

Martin Arnold led the technical design and coordination process resulting in the successful completion of the scheme in line with the project’s programme and budget, delivered for Phoenix Housing Association by Thomas Sinden Ltd (MA’s direct Client) through a Design & Build contract.

Fundamental redesign of the scheme was necessary following its scrutiny against the Lifetime Homes Standard requirements which resulted in an increased building footprint, height, resized openings and internal layout alterations. As a consequence, a Minor Material Amendment was submitted to the Local Authority and approved allowing progression to the technical design stage.

The building was raised on strip foundations, beam and block floor, traditional block/block/cavity wall construction (with rainscreen cladding areas), timber jji-joist floor and trussed roof with concrete roof tiles and photovoltaic panels in order to meet relevant planning conditions.

The key materials used for elevational treatment include Wienerberger’s Smoked Yellow Multi Guilt Brick, Marley Eternit Cedral timber effect rain screen cladding, Redland’s Mini Stonewold Charcoal Roof Tiles as well as Smart’s Alitherm Aluminium windows. Energy efficiency was improved by inclusion of photovoltaic panels located on west facing roofs. An attenuation tank was placed underneath the rear amenity as a part of the delivery of the sustainable drainage strategy.

Added value:

  • Successful urban gap infill
  • Four new, sustainable homes to Lifetime Homes Standard
  • Developed Design and Technical Design expertise

A Return To Streets In The Sky

Martin Arnold’s very own Chris Martin has contributed to a new book “The Deck Access Housing Design Guide: A Return to Streets in the Sky” by Rory Olcayto and Andrew Beharrel, by supporting the authors with cost consultancy advice.

The book explores the history of Deck Access Housing in the UK, compares it to similar buildings across Europe, and offers a practical design guide for anyone designing or constructing deck access housing, which – if you weren’t already aware – is making a comeback!

London’s Affordable Home Programme 2021-2026 makes the provision of dual aspect homes compulsory… and one of the simplest ways of achieving that is through deck access housing.

Deck access housing was prevalent in the post-World War Two era where the need for homes following the Blitz was answered by the construction of large scale urban social housing projects. These modern, Brutalist buildings were designed to promote a community spirit amongst its residents with each floor effectively being its own “street in the sky,” mimicking the terraced housing that they replaced.

However, deck access housing fell out of vogue in the 1980s. The buildings had fallen into a steep decline and the “streets in the sky” were now seen as a concrete wasteland. Additionally, the communities themselves had declined as industries collapsed, and while unemployment increased so did poverty. Many saw the buildings themselves as the cause for the crime and social unrest prevalent within them and thousands of homes were demolished to make way for regeneration projects. Prospective buyers looking to buy a flat in the remaining examples often found themselves unable to secure a mortgage as lenders viewed them as too risky.

If you’re interested in digging deeper, the book can be found at most booksellers, including Amazon.