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Drawing a lesson from education

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It shouldn’t come as any surprise that immediately after a major event like the historic UK withdrawal from the European Community opinions are divided on what the future will hold. Glass half full and glass half empty opinions represent moderate views along a spectrum that includes economic disaster at one end and sunny uplands opening up at the other.

Uncertain times are not usually regarded as the best background for encouraging investment of the sort that leads to demand for new buildings, from offices to shops, sheds and schools, but there are some positive signs following a year of setbacks for most sectors of construction.

February’s Deloitte annual crane survey, which examines commercial property development in the regions, showed 57 office, residential, hotel and student housing developments were started in the major cities like Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds last year, which is a healthy pipeline but still well down on the 97 of a year earlier. Offices were down 12.2%, and student accommodation fell by around 16% amid fears of oversupply. The number of hotel beds under construction rose by almost 8%, mostly in Manchester.

This was quickly followed by the construction purchasing managers’ index from IHS Markit/CIPS which rose to an eight-month high in December, better than economists had expected. The construction sector downturn lost intensity in January amid slower reductions in housebuilding, commercial developments and civil engineering. Manufacturing sentiment has also reportedly stabilised since the turn of the year.

Summing up, things have been bad, they have at least stopped getting worse and there are tentative signs of improvement. The steel construction sector’s own sentiment remains positive and the latest annual market share survey from Construction Markets confirms that steel has increased its share in the key sheds market and in multi-storey offices (see News).

Reasons why steel dominates demand in key sectors of the construction market abound, with different sectors finding different combinations of benefits swinging the choice of framing material towards steel. Plenty of evidence for steel being the preferred material for the education sector can be found in the new publication Steel Construction – Education Buildings that comes with this issue of NSC and has been distributed with a range of other construction magazines. It is also available as a free download from

It highlights that steel construction has proven its superior suitability for providing the education sector with modern, state-of-the-art buildings and extensions for many years and has a market share of over 60% as a result.

Steel is proving itself as the go-to solution for aesthetically pleasing, adaptable, cost-effective education buildings of all types, and the new publication contains real life examples of recently built primary and secondary schools across the UK, as well as teaching and research facilities for the higher education sector, innovative spaces for university students to study in, sports facilities and multi-storey student accommodation.

Steel construction looks forward to seeing healthy growth at least in line with the market, especially as sustainability and modern methods of construction are coming increasingly to the fore. There is a worthwhile lesson for other sector’s in steel’s achievements in education.

Nick Barrett

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