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Shortlist justifies optimism for future of steel

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The UK is going through what has been widely agreed to be one of the most tumultuous periods in its political history as a result of the referendum vote to leave the EU, and it would be foolhardy to make any predictions about what will happen next, let alone what the final outcome of these events will be. We are living in interesting times.

After an initial shock when the prophets of gloom and doom seemed to have the upper hand, a more optimistic note was struck by commentators and it began to look like things might not be as bad on the economic front as feared. That tide has ebbed and flowed ever since. About all that can be said confidently is that the general political background is uncertain; but in the meantime it’s business as usual.

Some investors have said they will push on with plans regardless of the immediately uncertain outlook, others have said they will wait and see. There have been few signs of cancellations of projects so far, and we await revised forecasts for construction output from the key forecasting organisations.

The steel construction sector can confidently tell the market that the outlook for the security of supply of fabricated steelwork remains as assured as it was before the referendum, when the BCSA was forecasting a continuing increase in demand and the most recent news about the prospects for UK manufacturing of steel was positive. The steel sector itself has no reason to fear for the future, whether in the EU or out of it, whatever that might look like.

Reasons for the steel sector’s optimism can be seen in the shortlist for this year’s Structural Steel Design Awards which has just been published (see News). Judges have visited all 21 on the shortlist, which as you will see is a geographically diverse collection of high quality projects that showcase the reasons why steel is so often the preferred solution for the widest range of types of buildings, bridges and other structures.

The shortlist includes stadia, education buildings, bridges, commercial developments and industrial facilities. It includes iconic structures like the Olympic stadium roof conversion and the Memorial Spire at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln. Footbridges reaching the shortlist have been built as far apart as Chichester in West Sussex, Gwynned in the north west of Wales, and Strabane in Co Tyrone.

One of the most viewed structures on television worldwide this July will be the SSDA shortlisted Land Rover BAR America’s Cup HQ Building in Portsmouth, when the America’s Cup gets under way on 21 July. The South Bank Tower has had its useful life extended by a refurbishment and the addition of 11 storeys made possible by steel.

When the dust finally settles over the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, these structures will remain as a lasting legacy, monuments to what can be achieved by a world-leading steel construction industry. These are interesting times for steel construction, but for all the right reasons.

Nick Barrett

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