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November/December 2010 – Competitive advantage on the rise

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Full economic recovery might yet be some way off, but there are encouraging signs from some markets at least that it might be sooner rather than later. The steel sector has been advising clients for many months that it is time to act to catch prices at anything like the bottom of the cycle.

Major developers have been among the first to heed this advice and we have already seen the start of previously stalled large commercial developments in London, for example British Land’s 47 storeys Leadenhall building.

Steel frames will dominate this new round of multi storey building, in the City, the West End and Docklands mostly, as well as whatever other multi storey development might get under way throughout the UK in the coming years.  Why? The answers can be gleaned from the Cost Comparison Study news story and the pamphlet that is included with this issue of NSC.

The competitive price gap between steel and concrete multi storey framing solutions has been heavily in favour of steel for many years and according to this year’s study the gap is at its biggest ever and is growing.

This success derives from the steel sector consistently making productivity enhancing investments across its activities from steelworks to fabrication workshops and to site, that have been shared with clients, which has given steel a 70% market share of multi storey buildings.

Not all construction markets have great hopes of increased workloads over the next few years. One of the major props to industry demand during the recession has been the schools building programme, and a large number of first class school buildings were provided under the Building Schools for the Future programme.  This has now been halted and an alternative procurement means is being sought.

Schools will still be built but the clients will focus more closely than ever on value for money.  With its proven cost and sustainability advantages steel can expect to improve market share in any sector where the focus on those factors is increased.

Even though the steel sector has been hit hard by the recession and a handful of well known names have gone out of business, research projects aimed at making steel even easier to design and construct with are still being funded by the steel sector. Among these has been research slaying the myth that heavy concrete frames deliver any sustainability benefits because of thermal mass, as standard steel construction provides the thermal mass required for passive cooling.

Further proof of this can be seen in this month’s News, the release of the latest in the Target Zero series of design guides that support the government’s ambitious carbon reduction targets. This new guide supports the pursuit of low carbon targets in the retail sector. It arms designers with all they need to know to use steel with its many sustainability advantages in the achievement of low carbon goals.

Much remains uncertain about the pace of economic recovery but we can be sure about a few things; long after the recession and the public sector spending cuts are forgotten, sustainability will still be topping corporate and government agendas – and steel will still be top choice as a framing solution.

Nick Barrett
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Click on the cover to view this month's issue as a digimag.