A glimmer of hope

collaboration, offsite manufacturing
Karen Fletcher

“I have to admit that it’s hard not to feel a sense of deja vu when I read a government report that’s calling for greater collaboration and allround better performance in the UK construction industry. We have really heard it before from Sir Michael Latham (Constructing the team, 1994) and Sir John Egan (Rethinking Construction,1998).

We shouldn’t forget their forerunners Alfred Bossom, Sir Ernest Simon and Sir Harold Banwell who also produced reports respectively in 1934, 1944 and 1967. You may not have been around to read their publications at the time, but the tone is very familiar.

Alfred Bossom was impressed by the first skyscrapers he saw being constructed in the USA. Returning home to the UK, Bossom despondently wrote of the UK construction sector: “The process of construction, instead of being an orderly and consecutive advance down the line, is all too apt to become a scramble and a muddle.”

Like Bossom, today’s government wants the construction industry to shape up and start delivering. The industry is being called on to adopt new construction technologies, such as offsite manufacturing (OSM). And it certainly offers many benefits including reductions in time and cost.

But it has been recognised that in order to put this and other up-to-date methods into action on a large scale, the industry has to make fundamental changes to the way it operates.

OSM and digital file sharing, for example, don’t create collaborative working - they require it to be there in order to work. The recent report from the House of Lords Committee on Science & Technology (Click here) sees a construction industry that is fragmented and distrustful - and not ready to take on these challenges.

A ray of optimism is that there are pockets of teamwork and collaboration happening around the construction industry. LETI (Click here) is an example of a group of built environment professionals who have voluntarily worked together and shared knowledge to influence the London Plan - and been very successful at helping to move the city towards more sustainable and efficient buildings.

It is a good example because, while government has recognised that the industry needs support to change, that is still going to have to come from within. It’s a tall order for an industry that has been told it needs to improve for the past 80 years. Perhaps this renewed focus on performance will be the push that gets us closer to that goal.”

Karen Fletcher

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