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?
A Coventry construction company has continued its commitment to bringing forward the next generation of talent in the industry.
Deeley Construction, which is based at George House at Coventry Business Park, has taken on three new apprentices to assist with the firm’s continued growth.
Charlie Stevens and Matt Byrne are both management trainees with the company and Katie-May Cashmore is a trainee accounts assistant.
Charlie is undertaking a Construction Management Degree at Birmingham City University, while Matt is studying for a BTEC Diploma in Construction Level 3 at South & City College Birmingham. Katie-May is completing an AAT Diploma Level 2 at Coventry College City Campus.
The trio continue a long-held tradition at Deeley Construction of growing its own workforce with almost 20 per cent of the company’s staff coming through the firm as an apprentice.
It’s a proud record that includes managing director Martin Gallagher, who welcomed Charlie, Matt and Katie-May to the company.
Martin said: “The skills shortage in construction is one of the biggest issues facing our industry but here at Deeley Construction we have always seen apprenticeships as a great route to growing our own and the industry’s future workforce.
“I know only too well the benefits of being an apprentice having started my career as one. It gave me the opportunity to work my way up through the business to the point where I am now able to give others the same chance I had.
“It’s great that Charlie, Matt and Katie-May want to develop a career in construction and also highlights that there are many roles in our sector from being out on-site through to being based in the office.
“As a company, we continue to grow and the addition of three new apprentices is a perfect way for us to start looking ahead to 2018.”
Pictured (left to right): Charlie Stevens, Katie-May Cashmore, Martin Gallagher, Matt Byrne
A boom in infrastructure projects is set to keep output in the West Midlands construction industry growing over the next five years, according to a report.
The forecast from the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) says that road and rail projects will see output in the infrastructure sector soaring by more than 10% each year over the 2017-2021 period.
The massive £11 billion High Speed 2 rail link will make a substantial contribution to the gain, says CITB’s Construction Skills Network report.
A £1.8bn road improvement programme will also give the sector a boost, with works including the £335m motorway upgrades to the M6.
The CITB says that these big projects mean that overall construction output is forecast to grow at an annual average rate of 1.3% per year for the next five years, with 14,000 jobs created.
Its report forecasts that the most in-demand roles in the West Midlands construction sector between 2017-21 include carpenters, electricians, and construction process managers (+1,550). There will also be significant demand for scaffolders, construction trades supervisors, labourers and surveyors.
One of our region’s companies the Deeley Group – which specialises in construction and property development – has been in business for more than eight decades in Coventry and Warwickshire.
Not only does that provide the company with a fine pedigree in all sectors of industry but also allows it to be an accurate judge of the area’s economy.
The Deeley Group is currently undertaking projects for HORIBA MIRA in the very north of the county through to a new 82-bed private rental apartment scheme for Orbit in Stratford-upon-Avon – with lots in between.
That not only underlines the expertise of the Deeley Group but, according to managing director Peter Deeley, shows that industry in Coventry and Warwickshire is doing well. He said: “Economically we are the home to a myriad of successful companies and certainly our advanced manufacturing and engineering firms – many involved in automotive – are leading the way.
“That has been fuelled by several factors. Clearly expanding markets have played a part, but Jaguar Land Rover is now a global brand and has clearly upped its game in terms of design, engineering and build quality.
“With Aston Martin, Geely, BMW and HORIBA MIRA – and many of their supply chain – also in Coventry and Warwickshire, we are undoubtedly a global force in that sector and that fuels inward investment and, consequently, development.”
Deeley has performed strongly in the education sector in recent years undertaking projects for both The University of Warwick and Coventry University, Warwick School, Warwickshire College Group and various academies.
One project – the creation of student accommodation at Warwickshire College Group’s Royal Leamington Spa College campus – only came to fruition because of Deeley’s contacts and experience in dealing with pension and investment funds.
Peter added: “The college was looking to a development team in the private sector to fund such a scale of operation. So we put forward a structured package of funding, designing and building of the units. After talks with the college, the fund we introduced purchased 100 existing student units and we are building 100 now.
“So the funder will end with an investment of 200 student units in a very good location in the centre of Leamington, where property values make that an attractive investment proposition.
“The significance is that it really shows what local companies can provide when it comes to need. In short, if you have the requirement for a new building or housing there are always ways of providing funding and the ability to deliver.
“It is a specialised area but we understand the way the funds need to be structured. We believe we have an overall view of development that allows us to structure a package so all requirements are met. The college has its student accommodation, Deeley Construction is completing a sizeable building contract and the funder has a good investment.”
The CITB public non-housing sector is forecast to grow at an annual average rate of 3.6% in the short-term. A number of large projects will support expansion including the £500m Birmingham University campus redevelopment and a £37m science and health building at Coventry University, due for completion this year, says the CITB.
Lorraine Gregory, CITB Partnerships Manager for the West Midlands, said: “Although there is economic uncertainty, the West Midlands construction sector is set for growth, particularly in infrastructure.
“The outlook is positive because of a number of major projects either under way or in the pipeline. The biggest is HS2 which will provide multiple spin-offs in housing, business and recruitment opportunities.
“These projects and the job opportunities contractors are telling us about means this is a very good time to pursue a career in the construction industry. “CITB will continue working with employers to attract new talent into the construction industry and to train them for rewarding careers in the sector.”
Image: Warwick Hall, the new 1,000 -seat theatre at the centre of the Warwick School campus
BY Peter Deeley
In a world which is increasingly digital, and where reality can be virtual – we are currently working on a £15 million project which has underlined the slightly older values of trust, knowledge and relationships.
We finished a very nice project for Warwickshire College Group at Pershore last year, and off the back of that picked up an enquiry from the College in Leamington as it had a contract to provide training to more students and therefore provide additional student accommodation.
The college was looking to a development team in the private sector to fund such a scale of operation. So we put forward a structured package of funding, designing and building of the units.
After talks with the college, the fund we introduced purchased 100 existing student units, we are building 100 now and there is an option on a final phase of 64 units.
So the funder will end with an investment of 264 student units in a very good location in the centre of Leamington.
The significance is that it really shows what local companies can provide when it comes to need. In short, if you have the requirement for housing there are always ways of providing funding and the ability to deliver.
It is a specialised area but we understand the way the funds need to be structured. We believe we have an overall view of development that allows us to structure packages so all requirements are met:
The college has its student accommodation
Deeley Group are completing a sizeable building contract
…..and the funder has a good investment!
Literally win, win, win!
Our size and our experience are key. We are local enough to really know the market yet large enough to be attractive to these types of property fund investors. Part of our ability is to comprehend how much the funds have to invest in property.
Knowing that and knowing the client’s needs, we agreed a formula which would be attractive to all sides.
This was not a banking property proposition in this post-recession climate. The figures would not have worked with a conventional banking arrangement.
Over the last decade, we have consciously developed an expertise in how funds work and how investors operate.
Construction, like all other industries, has moved with the times but it is interesting that in arrangements such as this, relationships and trust in those relationships, is fundamental. Without that element, nothing would work.
There are matters of confidentiality from all sides, and all parties have to have faith that the others have the ability to deliver what they are promising.
The funds are out there – not necessarily with banks – but you have to find the right ways to invest it and the right people to work with. If you can do that, the results can be mutually beneficial.
‘Working in partnership’ is one of those buzz phrases that so many businesses try to claim but so few can genuinely prove to be true. But when it comes to the Coventry based Deeley Group – a leading property development and construction firm – it’s a commitment to partnership that sees the company celebrate its 80th anniversary in 2016 in a very strong position.
It is working with a range of clients and partners from across the Coventry, Warwickshire and West Midlands region as well as a host of national organisations.
If you take this area alone and travel from north Warwickshire down through Coventry and into the south of the county, the evidence of the firm’s work is clear to see.
At the moment, Deeley Construction is working on a major extension to the Holland & Barrett headquarters at Bermuda Park in Nuneaton – a site developed by the Deeley Group over four decades.
And, in Stratford, the company has recently started work on new keyworker, private-rented accommodation on behalf of Orbit in the Town Centre – a site developed in conjunction with two other companies as part of the ABD partnership.
Add to that an unwavering commitment to a host of community and charitable causes including the Belgrade Theatre Trust, the Heart of England Community Foundation and the Grace Research Fund (among many others) and the positive impact that one firm – started by bricklayer George Deeley in 1936 – can clearly be seen.
Peter Deeley, George’s son, is still heavily involved with the firm as managing director of the group.
He said: “Developing partnerships is something that has always been important to us as a company and I believe it’s critical in today’s market.
“Some of the work we are undertaking at HORIBA MIRA, with both Warwick and Coventry universities, with the likes of Orbit Homes and LondonMetric, is all about relationships and partnership.
“It’s not simply about being a contractor or developer – it’s about being a part of the team that is going deliver a project. The construction team is winning repeat work with a number of clients and, again, I believe that comes down to the fact that we are seen as a partner not a contractor.
“When working in this area, our local knowledge really is of benefit to the client – it cannot be underestimated how valuable that can be. We have 80 years’ experience in this region and in this sector – few can say that.
“Another important point to stress is communication. In any business, you meet challenges but we always find it’s best to be open and transparent and talk to the client and others involved – again, that’s what partnership is all about.”
The company has been held in high regard, almost from day one in 1936.
GW Deeley, as it was then, won acclaim for providing the ‘best air-raid shelters’ in Coventry soon after the firm was established – a key market at the time! Then, in the 1940s, the company won a great deal of work building council houses in the Coventry and Rugby areas.
The 1950s and 60s saw further expansion of the business as the company branched out into building schools and other public buildings.
It developed its own HQ in Torrington Avenue, Coventry, and Peter joined the firm.
“I ran my first housing development site in Balsall Common,” he said, “it came in on time and on budget!”
The 1970s and 80s saw further expansion for the company, both through natural growth and through acquisition, with the purchase of Garlicks, the oldest Coventry building company which began trading in 1862.
The firm even dipped its toes into international waters by creating a Saudi Arabian division to help with major construction projects in the wake of the oil boom in the country.
It was in 1981 when the group first became involved with Bermuda Park in Nuneaton which is one of the most striking examples of regeneration across the region.
Over the course of 35 years, the company has turned a former rubbish dump and open cast coal mine on the outskirts of the town into a thriving location where people, quite literally, work, rest and play.
More than 1,000 new homes have been created on the site as well as jobs for more than 2,000 people and, once again, Deeley has worked with a range of partners to bring it forward – from local MPs through to the local community, for whom new sporting and social facilities have been created.
In 2008, the company made a move of its own to a new, purpose-built headquarters, named George House, at the Coventry Business Park.
From there, its reputation as one of the most respected, independent construction and development companies in the West Midlands has continued to flourish.
Its Queensway scheme in Leamington has, again, been an exemplar in regeneration. It saw a manufacturing company rehomed onto another Deeley site in Southam and the brownfield site was then developed into retail, employment space and new homes.
Peter Deeley said: “As a company, we have always tried to be more than just a business, but a member of the community both where we are based and where we are working.
“We support several charities and community initiatives across Coventry and Warwickshire because we believe that is the right thing to do.
“Again, it all comes down to partnerships and that word might explain why we’ve made it to our 80th anniversary and are still going strong!”
(Image: Deeley Group’s, Mixed-Use, Queensway Development)
Housing tops the political agenda, with both party leaders touting their policies to solve the shortage. And after decades of decline, are SME housebuilders recovering just in time to help meet this demand?
Read the full article here to see Peter Deeley’s views on the housing agenda.