The last few years have proved enormously challenging for many UK sectors, in the wake of Covid-19 and its hard-hitting economic impact. Civil engineering faced its fair share of setbacks, including the suspension of engineering sites across the country during multiple pandemic lockdowns. This inevitably affected growth, which dropped by a worrying 15% during 2020.
But the signs of recover are starting to emerge, according to industry experts such as Allan Wilen writing in New Civil Engineer.
He points to a number of really positive signs for the sector, such as an uplift in preparations for high-profile new construction projects. These include renewable energy projects kick-started by the UK Government’s Net Zero push, especially following COP26 in November 2021.
Across the board, planning approvals have shot up by 45% in the first quarter of 2022. The increase is down to major contract approvals worth an estimated £2.9 billion, which have increased by a huge 82% compared to the previous quarter. It also represents an astonishing 235% lift compared to 2021.
Road projects dominate the project-start scene
Another positive sign for the sector is the rise in major road construction projects. These include:
- Phase One of HS2 rail works between London and Birmingham
- £24 billion released as part of the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2)
- In Wales, road upgrades on sections five and six of the A465 (worth £514 million).
Overall, the number of road construction projects launching is 22% higher than a year ago. These new projects are understood to be worth around £1.2 billion. Performing particularly well is the North East, which has seen the value of project starts rise by nearly 290% compared to 2021. In Wales, there’s been a potentially record-breaking increase of 949% in comparison with the previous year, with project starts worth around £671 million.
Cautious optimism for the sector
Despite all these encouraging signs, industry experts such as Allan Wilen warn that the sector has many challenges still to overcome. Many civil engineering projects scheduled to start in 2021 have been delayed, and on-site starts in 2022 are down by 20% compared to the previous quarter.
Wilen advises businesses within the sector to look on the bright side and use any down-time to plan for future growth:
“While these setbacks might temper the positive tone of our prediction, we remain confident of the civils and infrastructure sector’s ability to ride out the storm. Crucially, businesses should take the opportunity to revaluate and measure supply chain performance, opting for routes closer to home or products easier to obtain domestically, even if at a slightly higher premium.
“It’s also a chance to reassess building processes and think about how materials are being used. For example, using digital tools to increase accuracy can lower the number of materials needed, reducing errors and rework, and increasing incredibly tight margins. In turn, this encourages a leaner approach to building, where waste is kept to a minimum so that projects can be delivered on budget and on time. Importantly, this will help prepare agile companies for an inevitable resurgence, when it comes.”
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