A number of housebuilders including Taylor Wimpey, Barratt and Galliard Homes are closing sites despite Government guidance which stated they could remain operational.
A statement from Taylor Wimpey said that it was closing all of its construction sites, showrooms and sales centres “in the interests of customer and employee safety.”
While some firms begin to close sites others are doing what they can to keep them open with the dilemma causing debate within the industry as workers and firms seek clarity over the issue.
Last night Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation to introduce strict rules which see the vast majority of the public confined to their homes for the next three weeks.
Johnson reiterated that homeworking should be adopted wherever possible and that only key workers carrying out essential jobs should go to work. Construction workers are not included on the Government’s list of key workers.
However, a change in the wording of the official advice released later seemed to backtrack on this, stating that the public should “work from home where possible”, omitting the reference to key workers and seemingly clearing the way for sites to remain operational.
Robert Jenrick, housing, communities and local government secretary, later confirmed this, saying: “If you are working on site you can continue to do so.”
The mixed messages from politicians left construction workers confused about what they should do, with many expressing concerns for their personal safety and that of their families on social media.
One senior property figure contacted by Place North West said that construction was essential and should continue but that uncertainty had “rattled the supply chain.”
Advice for the housing, construction & building maintenance industries:
🔹If you can work from home, do so.
🔹If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.
🔹Outside of work, remember to #StayHomeSaveLives
— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) March 23, 2020
Meanwhile, Peter Jackson of Seddon Construction said that the UK could follow the lead of other European nations which have allowed work on construction sites to continue.
Despite precautions such as social distancing and heightened hygiene on site many workers are not convinced that such measures can be effectively enforced on a building site.
Mike Tyler of the North West Construction Hub, summed up industry feeling when asked if he thought sites should remain open: “I honestly don’t know. We have lots of conflicting information at the moment but what is paramount is the safety of us all.”
Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, criticised the Government’s handling of the situation and called for clarity.
“Our members want to do the right thing, but the advice coming from Government is anything but clear. I am calling on the Government to tell my members, today, whether they can continue to go on site and work. Small builders cannot work from home, but without cash grants available now, they risk seeing their livelihoods lost.
Berry added: “Mixed messages are spreading further anxiety at a time when hundreds of small builders face immediate lost earning, having to make their staff redundant, and seeing their companies go to the wall. The £25,000 grant must be extended to construction, support is needed for the self-employed which make up 37% of the industry, and applications for the Job Retention Scheme must be brought forward.