Graeme Cooke of DEF Software discusses the fall in construction output, as the Office for National Statistics reports that construction output decreased by 40% in April compared with the previous year
This is not surprising given the lockdown in April, there was always going to be a significant fall that was to be expected. But before the industry panics, it is worth remembering that construction is the final output in the process.
Construction industry volatility is closely linked to the economy. If there is no confidence in the economy, people don’t want to borrow money and the construction industry remains depressed, there is hope, however. Planning applications only saw a fall of 20% in April compared to 2019 indicating that there is going to be improved construction output in the future.
We will also likely see a boost in home improvements such as extensions or refits, as the volume of householder type planning applications has remained steady during lockdown. This is in part down to people spending more time at home and part down to homeowners investing savings made during the lockdown period from cancelled travel and leisure plans into adding value to their property.
Are councils equipped to keep construction moving?
Now, with a reported growth of applications, every consideration must be taken to help boost the economy and restart the construction industry. A key factor in this will be local authorities doing their part to approve builds as quickly as possible, but are they properly equipped to do this?
There is likely to be a backlog of cases along with a predicted reshuffle of construction project priorities. Through reviewing our planning portal figures, we’ve noticed that there’s a downturn in terms of pubs and other public buildings applying for planning permission, as the restrictions around socialising reduces the incentive to invest.
The blocker will end up being councils. The current approvals process for local authority planners and building control is tied down in bureaucracy and archaic paper-based forms.
Covid-19 has seen an upturn in digital adoption across the entire public sector, with a particular focus on allowing staff to work from home, but it’s vital for the construction industry that this momentum remains. The relationship and processes linking construction and local authority planning are ripe for a rethink.
Planning and building control approvals
Considering both require in-person visits to be granted, a dramatic re-think will be required on how these visits can take place, with the current restrictions imposed by the virus.
Not least to help speed the process up to deal with the backlog, but also to ensure the safety of all involved. Planners and building control officers from local authorities, verifying sites and filling out risk assessment forms, usually carry the correct forms to…