Eleanor Deeley, Deputy Managing Director of the Deeley Group, on how construction is adapting to a limited return to site working
There is no doubt that parts of the economy are beginning to show signs of life – but the tap is only being turned on very slowly.
I was on one of many recent video calls when someone said that as we end lockdown it will be a little like when you have had your boiler repaired. When you turn on tap it splutters as the pipes refill and takes a while for the flow to be resumed.
On the construction side of the Deeley Group, the announcement of lockdown and social distancing meant our tap was tightly turned off and we closed our 11 sites.
I fully appreciate that it is very difficult for Government to be clear and concise bearing in mind the myriad of unprecented measures they are bringing in at the moment but there was, at best, uncertainty as to what was essential working.
Also, the advice that work would continue also came with a heavy hint that there was little understanding as to how a site works and that did cause concern in the industry.
Slowly the sector got to grips with exactly how we could continue working to a level while strictly adhering to the social distancing rules. That has, inevitably, meant big changes in how we work.
For example, signing in is now by text rather than an electronic fingerprint system; canteens are closed; site times, break times and lunch times are staggered; we can only have 10-30 per cent of the number of people on site to allow for social distancing.
There have been struggles getting materials – especially plasterboard – and many of the builders’ merchants were closed until very recently. That is all easing and the supply of UK-produced goods is getting much better, but there will be times when we are held up by the absence of products such as lifts or air-conditioning units, which have to be imported.
Interestingly, in a world of sub-contractors, there has been a total regard for the health and wellbeing of staff, which has been refreshing to witness particularly when, at the same time, there were images from major construction projects where workers paying no attention to the guidance.
Sub-contractors are only coming back to sites where they are confident that social distancing can be maintained and, when it can’t, there is suitable PPE used by all.
But no-one should be under the impression that this means we are back to normal. Social distancing is likely to remain in place for many months to come and this means that the rate of construction is going to remain low because of the limited numbers on site.
As ever, industry is going to have to find a way to overcome the hurdle. We might need
to extend working hours as we have the longer evenings arriving, almost operating a two-shift system to maximise the number of working hours on site.
I think an increase in weekend working is almost inevitable, but that will not only allow us to maintain progress as much as possible but it will also allow sub-contractors to earn, which will very welcome after the last two months.
Equally inevitable will be increased costs because efficient sequencing of a build will not be possible given the restrictions in place and the equipment shortages.
There are also other more trivial, but still important, consequences. Spirit on a site is always important but with people working alone we simply cannot interact in the same way.
There is going to be part of our morale that is absent as we miss the joke that we don’t hear, and the catch up over a coffee during a break.
But that is a small price to pay.
Eleanor Deeley, Deputy Managing Director of the Deeley Group, casts her eye over how the planning system is adjusting to life in lockdown
At a time when people have been panic buying shopping for toilet rolls, cutting their own hair and congregating for karaoke parties during the lockdown, it is refreshing – and indeed rare – to highlight the planning structure as a model of good sense.
Despite the tragic events which have crippled countries across the globe and robbed families of loved ones, other aspects of life have to try to operate as normal or at least adapt to the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves.
I think everyone has been pleasantly surprised, for example, how quickly people have adjusted to working from home and meeting virtually.
It would have been all too easy for development and construction to grind to a total halt. While many of the aspects of the profession have been rendered impossible through restrictions, the Government flexing planning regulations has allowed a great deal of work to continue when otherwise it would have been forced to cease.
The change has allowed more planning matters to be agreed under delegated powers which means that there continues to be a flow of applications being processed.
As with all aspects of business during the lockdown period, precise preparation and clear communication are vital in ensuring officers have as full a picture as possible allowing them to be comfortable they are able to make the right decisions.
The changes to planning regulations have also given council’s certain freedoms to decide the best ways to operate within guidelines.
Planning meetings can, for example, be held remotely with members logging in over the internet or on the telephone. The location of a meeting can now be defined digitally such as a web address or video conference call rather than a physical place.
As long as committee members, officers and applicants can hear and be heard then a meeting can go ahead. Contributions from the members of the public if they are allowed to speak can be registered in advantage.
I wonder how many times committees would like to have had a “mute facility” at their disposal in real meetings!
Public consultations are, by their very nature, far harder to carry out during lockdown yet the Local Government Association Planning Advisory Service has urged local authorities to press on employing social media, interactive maps and online information, and utilising virtual groups through channels such as Facebook.
These are still early days relative to public consultations and there are more formal and structured elements to the process which may not be able to be conducted remotely, and there is talk of guidance being flexed to make that possible should this situation continue.
There are elements which have proved trickier to overcome. Some smaller councils do not have it within their constitution to make decisions without a physical meeting while traffic counts – a key factor in planning applications and consents – are impossible to measure when we are restricted to essential journeys only.
Again, if lockdown continues then the system will have to adapt and research has shown that more than three quarters of councillors are behind the process continuing virtually until the crisis is behind us.
What this dreadful time has shown is that, when the pressure is on and needs must, the planning system, which at times seems massively inflexible, can be shaped and moulded to mutual benefit.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that spirit of understanding and mutual working continued long after this horrible period is over?
In our latest blog, Elaine Freeman, designer at top interiors specialists Open Door Interiors, discusses the inspiration behind the interior design for the Deeley Homes development, The Meadows at Pillerton Priors.
When we were first outlining the interior design for the show home, the first elements to consider were the location and the stunning surrounding countryside which plays a key role in making The Meadows so impressive.
The colours, textures and patterns we picked were designed to bring in certain aspects of the surrounding landscape into the rooms, with rich emerald greens used to achieve a contemporary yet classic look.
This is particularly true of the wallpaper featured in the study – the emerald green uses a stunning crocodile effect to create a sense of depth and texture to ensure the room comes with an atmosphere which is conducive to home working.
We have featured bold elements throughout the property, with striking brass touches and natural-wash woods to contrast with a more elegant feel in the entrance hall and staircase.
The natural colours of the wash-wood creates a real sense of bringing the countryside to the interior and, in pairing it with a smart edge to the finishing lines of the rooms, it creates a very classic look, with a more modern and up-to-date twist without it being a slave to fashion.
The properties feel very ‘on-trend’ with the use of funky, bold colours that create a strong impact and are weaved throughout the homes, even through to the guest bathroom and hallway.
One of my favourite aspects of our work at The Meadows is the use of fabric wallpaper, which is becoming more popular as a simple, yet effective, way to really make a statement when decorating.
The velvet wall fabric used here evokes a more natural look and creates a sense of elegance for the property, adding a slightly more feminine touch to the décor.
The homes at The Meadows are finished to a high specification, using the best local materials with views across the stunning open countryside, which to us, was an aspect of each home that we really wanted to emphasise in the design.
For more information on The Meadows, Pillerton Priors, visit: https://www.themeadowspillerton.co.uk/