Welcome to The Week That Was, a round-up of key events in the construction sector over the last seven days.

Construction Industry pays tribute to Queen Elizabeth II

The construction industry has paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth, who passed away last week at the age of 96, after reigning for more than 70 years, making her Britain's longest-serving monarch. Her Majesty visited hundreds of construction projects in her time as head of state, including in May this year, when she officially opened London's Elizabeth line – a new underground route named in her honour.

Messages of condolence have been shared on construction companies' social media, highlighting the Queen's "reassuring presence…providing consistency, reassurance and hope."

To read more, please click here.

Government publishes updated Construction Playbook

On 5 September 2022, an updated version of the Cabinet Office Construction Playbook (the Playbook) was published. The Playbook provides several guidance notes, supporting documents and model clauses. Updates include:

  • Digitisation and Sustainability remain as key themes, reflecting on the modern methods of construction and setting out requirements for benchmarking key project deliverables, including greenhouse gas emissions and social value;
  • A new "expectation" for Government departments and their arm's length bodies (ALBs) to set targets for the level of use of MMC (Modern Methods of Construction) in project delivery; and
  • Endorsing the 24 recommendations in 'Constructing the Gold Standard' which was published in December 2021, following an independent review of public sector construction frameworks.

All central Government departments and ALBs are expected to follow the Playbook on a "comply or explain" basis, although they can depart from it in certain situations.

You can read the Playbook with guidance notes here.

Pickett v Balkind [2022] EWHC 2226 (TCC)

The claimant mistakenly disclosed an unredacted letter from their structural engineering expert which raised questions regarding the expert's independence.

The claimant's solicitors had applied to adjourn the trial following the expert being unavailable for medical reasons, exhibiting a letter to reflect the expert's health concerns. The first four paragraphs of the letter referred to comments and "'suggestions/requests" from the claimant's counsel regarding the experts' draft joint statement.

The claimant's solicitor asserted that the paragraphs were privileged and had been inadvertently disclosed, however HHJ Paul Matthews refused an injunction to restrain the defendant from using the letter for cross-examination. This is because the paragraphs revealed a potentially serious breach of paragraph 13.6.3 of the TCC guide, which says that parties' legal advisers must not be involved in negotiating or drafting the experts' joint statement.

Please see the full judgment here.

RICS responds to new Prime Minister's incoming speech

On 6 September 2022, Liz Truss became the new Prime Minister of the UK and gave her first speech outside 10 Downing Street. The main focus of the speech was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the cost of living and economic stability.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has responded to that speech. It says (amongst other things) that it "whole heartedly agrees" with the new Prime Minster that a crucial priority should be to address the shortage of housing and that the Government needs "high quality housing in sufficient numbers" with high safety and energy efficiency standards in order to meet its socio-economic aims.

RICS also says that the climate emergency and rising costs provide an "ever more compelling case" for retrofitting existing houses. It says that "an ambitious retrofitting agenda could make millions of homes warmer and more energy efficient, reduce energy bills and cut our carbon emissions".

You can read the full response here.

Greener cement trial

Innovate UK (a Government agency) is funding a two-year research project into how recycled clay can be used to create low carbon cements. The project is supported by researchers from the University of London and the University of Dundee, as well as industry partners Tarmac, Hanson, Imerys and Forterra.

It is estimated that the use of waste-derived clays from other industries, such as brick-making, will reduce waste by 1.4 million tonnes and cut carbon emissions of cement by between 20 and 40%.

Diana Casey, director of the Mineral Products Association, said: “Trialling the use of waste clay from brick manufacturing as a cementitious material is a huge step forward for our industry as we continue to decarbonise and move towards a circular economy. This will not only lower carbon and reduce waste, but has the potential to create a whole new market if waste clays become widely used in the construction industry, helping to retain economic value in the UK, secure jobs and attract investment.

Read more here.

Extreme weather contributes towards construction decline

Monthly construction output decreased by 0.8% in July 2022, or £114m, compared with June 2022. This is despite the fact that new work in July 2022 increased by 0.3%. Therefore, the decrease came solely from repair and maintenance work. This decline follows a decrease in output of 1.4% in June 2022.

Whilst June's decrease in output was blamed on the extra bank holiday for the jubilee, the Office of National Statistics has said that July's decline is partly due to the record-breaking warm weather as many businesses reported it being too hot to work.

However, Returns for the Monthly Business Survey for Construction and Allied Trades (MBS) and the Business Insights and Conditions Survey (BICS) also suggest that increasing prices has contributed towards the downfall.