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July/August 2009 – Time for construction to speak up

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The steel construction sector can feel justifiably proud of itself having just staged a Structural Steel Design Awards event that was a first class showcase for the best that it can achieve. The judges admitted that the quality of those gaining Awards was excellent, and that not a lot separated those on the 22 strong shortlist from those that gained the ultimate accolade.

What was particularly impressive to the judges – a group of architects and engineers with first hand experience at the front line of delivering prestige projects like the SSDA entries – was the variety of project as well as their obvious quality. Wimbledon’s Centre Court Redevelopment has captured most of the headline interest with its already famous closing roof, and it could hardly be more different from its fellow Award winner the Xstrata Aerial Walkway at Kew. Commercial, education, and infrastructure projects gained the other Awards. Projects from sectors as diverse as transportation, corporate headquarters, factories, museums, bridges and energy plants also featured in this year’s awards.

With the construction sector reeling under dramatic falls in workloads the question inevitably arises in some people’s minds what the impact will be on award scheme entries for the next few years. The recession seems to be bottoming out, but there are few confident predictions being made that this means things will get much better for construction anytime soon.

All that might change of course with the next quarter’s economic statistics, and the gloom merchants will be forced to beat retreat. But rather than wait for recovery the construction industry can do some things to help create its own recovery. The obvious things are a greater than ever focus on efficiency, which will be to the benefit of steel with its consistently better value product and increased construction programme certainty, as well as all the other benefits like sustainability.

Speaking at the Awards ceremony (see News) Corus Chief Executive Officer Kirby Adams suggested another tactic, urging the industry to up the pressure on government to bring forward investments that will help lift construction out of the mire and place the UK on a sounder footing to benefit when recovery comes. Corus has a voice that government hears, he said, but so do all the other companies in the industry as well as all the individuals who work in it. It’s clearly time for government to stop talking and start acting, but maybe we should all think about making our voice heard.

Nick Barrett

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