Special Report - Built Environment

Construction builds future on firmest of foundations - The North-East's skyline has changed forever and the new horizon is a testament to the fantastic shape of the construction industry in this region.

The SAGE building on Gateshead Quayside

Construction builds future on firmest of foundations

The North-East's skyline has changed forever and the new horizon is a testament to the fantastic shape of the construction industry in this region.

In recent years, successful regeneration projects have transformed the region into a world-class, 21st Century living environment that is second to none.

This transformation has been based upon the creation of an infrastructure that has improved transport links and created a diverse range of excellent leisure facilities and quality, affordable housing.

The role that the built environment has played in this revolution cannot be underestimated. After all, iconic structures such as The Sage Gateshead and the Baltic Centre will light up the landscape for years to come.

So how has this been achieved in a region that is bottom of most, if not all Government socio-economic and educational achievement performance tables? The North-East has the best qualified construction workforce of all the English regions and is way above the norm for employees achieving level 3 and higher qualifications.

This goes some way to explaining how we have produced a 21st Century skyline in recent years but also highlights the world class education and training available in our region which is the envy of our more affluent southern cousins and other countries.

And, as the Government Office for the North-East (GONE) points out in this issue of North-East Vision, 81% of people are interested in how the environment looks and feels.

Rightly so, GONE points out that the environment is everybody's business. What is around us shapes our lives and the way we feel in all parts of our lives, from going to work to simply looking out of the window.

Whether it is in the south of the region, at Middlehaven, in Middlesbrough, or in the north, with the banks of the Tyne developments, regeneration can only be a success story if everyone works together. Local authorities, funding agencies, architects, builders, even administrators. All of us have to be in harmony to bring about a change which is not only practical and physically attractive, but also sustainable.

The construction industry in the North-East is one of, if not the largest single employment sector in the region and the future looks set to offer further good news, in terms of growth.

Construction currently accounts for in excess of 100,000 jobs in the North-East, from general operatives and tradespersons to architects, surveyors and project managers. This is set to rise to 107,000 by the year 2010 - and that's a conservative estimate. The sector has seen phenomenal regional growth throughout the last decade and new orders have increased by 97% since 2000.

Over the next five years or so, we will need to recruit an estimated 4,000 new entrants per annum into the industry within the North-East to meet the built environment needs of our region and supply labour to other parts of the UK.

The annual turnover of the sector in the North-East is now approaching £4bn and growth is set to continue for at least another five years, with a strong regional commercial development market forecast to be maintained.

These figures should come as a real boost to young people who are either training for a career in the construction industry, or are considering doing so. Young people can look at this picture of the industry and be assured that the present and future look very positive.

There is a real need to recruit and it is down to organisations, such as Northumbria University and the region's other universities, which run relevant courses, and, of course, CITB-ConstructionSkills, to play their part.

We must ensure a large number of these recruits are new blood to the industry, trained to the highest standards, and I know great work is being done to meet these needs. One of the drawbacks of having a world class construction workforce is that other regions and countries envy us and want our people.

Although the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet phenomenon of 10 to 20 years ago was driven by economic recession and unemployment in the region, current migration of our workforce is by choice rather than economic need.

The industry currently has a "leakage" factor of some 21%, through migration mainly to the South.

This means that for every 100 new entrants that work in the region, we need to recruit and train 121. Again, this is excellent news our young people looking for a career with real prospects, education and training providers in the region and the sector as a whole as it adds to an ever increasing reservoir of new talent.

As a region and a sector we should celebrate, invest in and expand our world class regional construction education and training providers and if that means we become an importer of unskilled raw recruits and an exporter of qualified and wanted workers, then so be it.

We are `top of the table' in this aspect so why do our regional bodies not concentrate and invest in what we do extremely well and stop focussing all the time on our economic and social shortcomings?

So, the future of our industry in the region for those of us already involved, as well as for those who will help to shape the region in years to come, is looking bright and positive as we continue to build the 21st Century North-East.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North-East, please contact regional director, Catriona Lingwood, at catriona@constructingexcellence-ne.org.uk

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Quality building design is vital to environment

Surveys have shown that we are passionate about buildings, with 81pc of us interested in how the environment looks and feels - not surprising, because well-planned and well-designed buildings can make a vital contribution to our quality of life by making us feel safer, healthier and happier.

To achieve the Government's aim of sustainable, inclusive and mixed communities, developments need to be attractive, safe, well-designed, and built to a high quality, and this is where Government Office for the North East can make a real difference.

Improving the quality of the physical environment is one of the Government Office's key objectives, and it starts with planning.

Diana Pearce, Government Office's Director for the Built Environment, said: "To help maintain the distinctive character of the North-East we work closely with the main bodies concerned with the natural and built environment, including English Heritage and the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE)."

The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 introduced major changes to the planning system, with the phasing out of county structure plans, stronger regional spatial strategies and new flexible local development frameworks.

"The reforms have made it easier for local authorities and developers to deliver the quality of development that's needed, and the introduction of design coding - as piloted in Walker Riverside in Newcastle - will bring more certainty to the design process," she added.

For planning to be truly effective though, it has to be backed up with action and delivery, and the North East Housing Board, first chaired by Government Office Regional Director Jonathan Blackie, and now by the Regional Assembly by Councillor Alan Napier of the Regional Assembly, is helping to turn the plans into reality.

The Board oversaw the production of the first North-East Regional Housing Strategy in 2003 and an update was produced last year. One of its principal objectives is to help ensure that residents have a good choice of good-quality housing.

The Board organised a housing design workshop in February this year and it has provided funding totalling £350m for the period 2004-2008, with quality being a major feature of schemes supported.

Poor quality and design can also contribute to wider housing market failure, and Government funding provided to the region's housing market renewal pathfinder Bridging NewcastleGateshead (BNG) is helping to drive up the quality of the built environment on Tyneside.

Pathfinder proposals must incorporate high standards of urban design in buildings and public spaces and also value the heritage of existing buildings and landscapes.

In assessing BNG's latest bid for funding, Government Office recognised its strong sense of the importance of design quality.

A representative from CABE sits on BNG's quality and design working group, and innovative schemes such as the Byker Design Competition and the Walker Community Enquiry by Design have brought together world-class designers and local communities in St Lawrence Square, South Byker and Walker Riverside.

Additionally, a Housing Expo planned for Scotswood will be a showcase for high-quality urban design and best practice.

"We'll continue to do all we can to help raise standards in building design for the people of the North East," added Ms Pearce.

On page 2:
Setting out to restore some of the old skills our heritage needs plus Developing the future.

We're setting out to restore some of the old skills our heritage needs
By Simon Murray Senior Education Manager for CITB-ConstructionSkills, England and Board Member of Constructing Excellence in the North East.

The North-East's historic architectural and listed building stock is at crisis point. The maintenance and upkeep of some of our oldest and most important buildings and structures has been allowed to slip and some are in such a poor state of repair that unless immediate action and work is undertaken they are in danger of either collapsing or needing to be demolished for safety purposes.

Obviously, world renowned iconic buildings such as Durham Cathedral, Alnwick Castle and Cragside do not fall within the "at serious risk" category due to adequate resourcing and planned maintenance programmes but structures such as Ravensworth Castle, featured on Restoration, plainly do.

Following the publication of a national piece of research, Traditional Building Craft Skills, which highlighted some serious national and regional skills shortages for the built heritage sector, a regional call to arms was announced in order to directly address the issue.

Some excellent organisational, project and localised activity has taken place over recent years such as the Northumberland National Park apprenticeship programme for dry stone wallers and Beamish Museum's recruitment and training scheme but a far more structured and co-ordinated regional approach was needed.

A major traditional skills fayre was held at Wallington Hall during the last weekend of September 2005 to launch the research findings and also to formally start the process of establishing a coordinated strategic approach to solving this problem and hopefully ensure that some of our oldest and much loved buildings do not disappear from the landscape of the North-East.

It was agreed that the misconceived image of the beard-and-woolly sweater/tweed skirted heritage worker needed to be dispelled and career options within the sector be made far more attractive in order to stimulate increased interest, applications and employment of new recruits.

A regional heritage skills action group has been established to co-ordinate work and organisations include English Heritage, Museums Hub, Rina, ConstructionSkills, Civic Trust, Institute of Historic Buildings Conservation and a variety of education and training providers among others.

One of the first issues identified is the limited amount of good quality heritage and conservation education and training within the region's universities, colleges and private training providers.

Discussions are currently under way to change this and possible heritage options are being developed for those on apprenticeship routeways at levels 2 and 3 - eg, wood trades, roofing etc. Trainees will be given choices in order to qualify as a joiner specialising in new housing or perhaps having a skillbase for working with 15th Century timber.

At least two regional events with a heritage theme have been planned for National Construction Week in early October, with the key messages highlighting the state of dilapidation some of our oldest and most historic buildings are in, as well giving accurate information, advice and guidance to young people, labour market returnees and those considering a change of career as to the exciting opportunities that exist in this field.

If we wish our children and future generations to enjoy our historic building stock we must taken action now and not leave it to others or until "tomorrow".

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Developing for the future

Earlier this year, the Housing Corporation awarded Three Rivers Housing Group, the Durham housing association, a £5.9m grant for its2006-2008 development programme.

The money is part of £20.5m of grants the corporation has allocated to the region via the Spirit partnership, of which Three Rivers is a major part.

The partnership, which was set up last year to raise social housing standards by providing more and better quality homes at less cost to the public, also includes Two Castles Housing Association, Tees Valley Housing Group, Erimus Housing, Housing Hartlepool and Coast & Country Housing.

The money will be spent on developing good quality, affordable homes in the North-East including apartments, family houses and bungalows with a mix of rental, shared ownership, equity purchase and supported housing for those in need of care and support.

Three Rivers will develop 12 schemes, providing 101 homes throughout the North-East in areas including Durham, Hartlepool, Sunderland, Redcar and Cleveland, South Tyneside and the Wear Valley at a total cost of more than £10.1m.

Among Three Rivers schemes to be developed in its current two-year programme are:

West Rainton, Durham (Phase 2): This scheme replaces out-of-date bungalows with two three-bedroom houses and eight two-bed bungalows at a total cost of £833,750. The project will be built to eco homes standards, which will reduce carbon emissions per property by 30% compared with houses constructed to current building regulations and will pass on savings to customers.

Demolition and construction work is scheduled to start in November and the contractor will be CGR Ecohomes Ltd. They should be available for occupation late next year.

Howden-le-Wear, Wear Valley: Six Eco and Lifetime Home two-bedroom bungalows for elderly people. This rural regeneration scheme for 18 people will cost £480,000. Work is expected to start on site in December, with completion in November next year.

Florida Street, Sunderland: A mix of 12 apartments and eight houses for 72 people at a total scheme cost of £2.36m is scheduled to be completed early in 2008. Fourteen units will be developed for mainstream rent and six for shared ownership.

Westoe Crown Village, South Shields (Phase three, four and five): There will be 30 units for 96 people, to include two- and three-bedroom houses and two-bedroom bungalows, 18 for mainstream rent and 12 for shared ownership.

The developer is George Wimpey North and phase three is expected to be completed next June, with the remaining phases expected to be completed by January 2008.

Bowburn, Durham (Phase 2): Four two-bedroom Eco and Lifetime Home bungalows and two four-bedroom Eco family houses are to be developed for a total cost of £626,000, taking Three Rivers' total investment over three years to £3.3m in this community alone.

Saltburn, Redcar and Cleveland: Supported housing unit providing five very large one-bedroom flats and one two-bedroom flat. Total scheme cost is £674,000 and is expected to be on site next February with completion in August next year. The scheme, to be developed by Koru, will be the conversion of a large Edwardian house in a conservation area and has been designed so that all period features will be kept.

Three Rivers Housing Group chair Peter Gavin said: "We are looking forward to continuing our exciting new development programme with the Housing Corporation and hope that the schemes we will be developing over the next two years will enhance our reputation as a leading housing association within the North-East.

"The new programme will support our vision of providing good quality, affordable homes in desired locations where people want to live."

In addition to the schemes mentioned, there is also a proposed develop-ment at Ferryhill Station in Sedgefield, County Durham.

Three Rivers is already a substantial stakeholder in Ferryhill and is working closely with the council and consulting local people about regenerating and sustaining this local community.

Sedgefield Borough Council outlined in its local development framework the need to "improve the quality of where people live" and "new developments are to be modern, sustainable, well designed and constructed using modern methods of construction (MMC)".

The proposed development at Ferryhill would use some of the £60,000 house designs by Northern Edge, a limited liability partnership of four northern housing associations, of which Three Rivers Housing Group is a partner.

Northern Edge won the Innovation Award at the Constructing Excellence in the North-East annual awards last March.

This achievement builds on success since last year's announcement that Northern Edge was one of the nine winners of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's Design for Manufacture Competition.

The competition challenged developers to build a high quality family home for £60,000. Other partners in Northern Edge are Yorkshire Housing Group, Tees Valley Housing Group and South Yorkshire Housing Group.

The house design by Northern Edge is intended to meet "excellent" Eco Homes standards, which as well as benefiting the environment, also benefit the occupier through lower energy bills.

The homes, which will be built to Housing Corporation Scheme Development Standards (SDS) and Housing Quality Indicator (HQI) compliant, will be constructed using MMC.

Furthermore, the innovative design means the homes are not only practical, but eye-catching too and are a perfect way to encourage the regeneration of an area.

Working to EcoHomes standards, the consortium designed a range of modern homes with proven light steel frame technology which uses recycled British steel - this product was recently used to acclaim by Three Rivers for the development of a four-bedroom care home.

Three Rivers director of development and regeneration Lynda Peacock said: "Due to the knowledge and expertise of the partners within Northern Edge, we have the resources and capacity needed to produce homes that are not only great in design, but also by sourcing the best suppliers for materials, we can keep production costs low, thus benefiting the buyer.

"Three Rivers Housing and Sedgefield Borough Council are jointly visiting residents and tenants in Ferryhill to assess their housing options and to listen to their views and suggestions.

"We want to ensure that residents and tenants have been consulted before a planning application is submitted, which is expected by the end of this year."

On page 3:
Focused on skills challenges plus CSR: a necessary evil?

Focused on skills challenges

CITB-ConstructionSkills provides assistance in all aspects of recruiting, training and qualifying the construction workforce. It also works with partners in industry and government to improve the competitiveness of the industry as a whole.

The sector skills agreement

Following extensive industry consultation and a comprehensive skills needs analysis, the four key skills challenges facing the industry - and the required actions to meet those challenges - were agreed. CITB-ConstructionSkills is focused on delivering on these challenges. In summary, these are:

Qualifying the existing workforce

Intensifying and widening the industry's Qualifying the Workforce initiative

Developing flexible training and qualification structures for specialist occupations

Assisting the effective integration of immigrant workers

Recruiting qualified new entrants

Improving understanding of the career opportunities in construction

Increasing apprentice completions and widening opportunities for on-site practice

Promoting diversity through local employment and training projects

Increasing quality applications for construction-related degree courses

Improving business performance

Increasing the number of companies investing in training

Developing management and leadership skills

Skills for sustainability

Infrastructure to support priorities

Improving intelligence on skills for the future

Qualifications and progression routes

Combating skills shortages

CITB-ConstructionSkills is combating the demand for technical trades like joiners, tilers and bricklayers, as well as professional and managerial jobs, such as architects, engineers and surveyors through many projects.

Adopting a training culture is good for business, it promotes safer onsite practices; quicker delivery; a more dedicated workforce; more contracts; a healthier bottom line and improved quality.

CITB-ConstructionSkills offer a grant to support a wide range of training, from apprenticeships and health and safety to Training and Development Plans for your whole business. CITB-ConstructionSkills can advise on how to get the most out of your workforce and the grant scheme available.

STEP into Construction

Designed as an incentive to encourage employers to increase its diversity in the workplace, STEP aims to bridge the skills gap that is evident in construction.

The total labour market, including under-represented groups, need to be engaged. CITB-ConstructionSkills can assist companies when recruiting females, black and ethnic minorities as well as the traditional workforce.

Managing Agency

CITB-ConstructionSkills places approximately 9,500 apprentices per year through its Managing Agency.

To help the employer and the apprentice through the apprenticeship, CITB-ConstructionSkills offers ongoing mentoring and support from a personal training officer as well as CITB Grant of up to £8,400 over three years, to support training.

For further information, contact Ben Dures, North East Area Manager at CITB-ConstructionSkills on (0191) 516-3900.

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CSR: a necessary evil?
By Catriona Lingwood, director of Constructing Excellence in the North-East

Corporate social responsibility: a new-age fad or an inextricable part of 21st- Century industry? Much has been said about the need to incorporate CSR in business operations. But what if it conflicts with the aims of the business? And what does it mean anyway?

Some people believe it's a stalking horse for an anti-corporate agenda, but others hold more favourable views. To give a broad definition, CSR explores how companies manage the business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society.

For the construction industry, society's increasing awareness of the environment means CSR is becoming more important. But is CSR really a necessary evil or can it actually help the performance of companies in the built environment?

Well, the latter view has much more credence. For instance, it makes sense on a corporate and social level for all companies to have a clearly-defined and well-communicated policy on how they will reduce waste and address environmental issues. It's also a smart move to source local materials and minimise the need for road journeys to and from the construction site.

Reducing waste too is a target the Government is keen to achieve. And, just as the general public is expected to become more environmentally conscious about how they store and reduce waste, the construction industry is also expected to comply with stringent legislation that governs this issue.

Some firms operate a JIT (just in time) system, which means they order only the materials that are needed and store them safely on site. It is expected construction companies will protect the natural environment on the site and in the immediate locality where they are working. As part of the planning process, companies should at least liaise with site neighbours and minimise nuisance and disruption.

The Considerate Contractors scheme will help companies go about this in the best way. Regular meetings, the establishment of a feedback group and a commitment to protecting wildlife, nature, heritage and conservation areas is usually a good starting point to get the general public onside.

Authorities can provide advice and guidance (and in some cases grants to help companies achieve sustainable construction and development. And it's worth remembering that procuring public money is difficult in today's climate if you cannot justify how your policies demonstrate CSR and a commitment to the environment.

It is important that the region's construction industry buys into the whole concept of CSR. After all, what some people see as a wishy-washy, philanthropic gesture is actually relevant to the economic performance of the construction industry and the social wellbeing of communities. And those companies which refuse to embrace the idea will be seen as out of touch and will quickly be left behind.

For more details on Constructing Excellence in the North-East contact Catriona Lingwood on (0191) 374-6470 or email catriona@constructingexcellence-ne.org.uk

On page 4:
Farmer reaps rewards of planning expertise plus Finding ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions

Farmer reaps rewards of planning expertise

A farmer says he can look forward to a secure financial future after an 11th hour intervention by planning experts. Nigel Robson grew up at Castle Hill Farm near Crawcrook, in the Tyne Valley, where his father was the tenant farmer, rearing beef cattle and sheep and growing root crops.

Mr Robson, 44, has continued to farm there for the past nine years. He expanded into plant hire and bought the property from his landlord two years ago.

More recently, with financial pressures mounting, he decided to sell the 19th Century five-bedroom farmhouse and outbuildings for development.

However, the plan looked to be heading for disaster because an early design scheme failed to meet with approval from planning officers.

Mr Robson said: "It was getting desperate because I really had to get planning permission. Time was running out. The bank could have come along at any minute to call in their loan and tell me to sell the property as it was."

Land agent George F White brought in planning consultants from Blackett Hart & Pratt who managed to rescue the scheme, which has now been given the go-ahead by Gateshead Council.

The development allows for the buildings to be converted into one three-bedroom, two two-bedroom and two single-bedroom homes.

Rod Hepplewhite, a planning consultant with Blackett Hart & Pratt, said: "Barn conversion schemes nowadays are rarely straightforward, and this development was a lesson in what is and what is not acceptable when it comes to developing rural properties.

"The original scheme was going nowhere and a number of significant revisions were required, including deleting an unsympathetic extension and revising the design details so the conversion retains the rural character and appearance of the farmhouse.

"By revising the plans, providing more detail, improving the presentation and negotiating with planners, we were able not only to get the application through but also to get planning permission within our eight-week target."

Mr Robson will remain close to the farm as he is planning to convert a nearby property in which to live.

He said: "Once the bank heard that BHP was on board, they were happy to give us more time to alter the plans.

"They have designers in-house as well as planners like Rod who know what information councils need, which made the whole process more efficient."

He added: "I have some sentimental attachment to the farm. I grew up here with my brother and sister. My mum used to sell eggs at the door and she died when I was 17. But it's time to move on and I'm just glad that it's all resolved."

Castle Hill Farm is being marketed later this month by George F White, tel: (01388) 527966.

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Finding ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions

The UK property industry could be criticised for not keeping up with its European neighbours when it comes to considering the consequences on the environment of building work.

Half the greenhouse gas emissions in this country can be attributed to the energy used in the building, occupation and operation of buildings, according to Government figures.

Buildings are major consumers of energy, and it's something that has not gone unnoticed by legislators.

The new EU directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings came into force early this year.

Although not yet fully implemented in the UK - we, like other member states, have a three-year window, which started in January, in which to implement certain provisions of the directive - its principal objective is to reduce emissions from buildings by improving energy efficiency.

The directive introduces a method for calculating energy performance of a building, which will be used throughout the EU.

However, member states will be able to specify the minimum energy standard of new and existing buildings in their countries.

The directive is likely to have a significant impact on developers and property investors.

If you are the seller, every time a new or existing building is sold or let you must show an energy performance certificate, no more than ten years old, to the prospective buyer or tenant.

The three-year window will allow certification schemes to be developed and time for the accreditation and training of sufficient personnel to undertake the energy performance assessments.

Developers are going to have to be more mindful of energy efficiency from the outset, for example by providing more, higher quality insulation and energy-efficient glazing.

They will also have to consider the energy used during the construction process.

Here, the message has to be greater use of more sustainable products.

For example, a UK-based company is recycling the ash output (traditionally a waste material) from coal-fired power stations and re-engineering it into sustainable products for the construction industry.

The construction industry must also consider minimising the amount of waste produced from building sites, due to the implementation of the Landfill Directive and the landfill tax that it imposes.

As the pressure to reduce landfill grows, landfill taxes are inevitably set to increase.

Developers, therefore, will be reluctant to dispose of contaminated land via landfill and will be faced with the challenge of finding alternative ways to remediate such land in situ.

On the up side, the recent Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' (RICS) Green Value Report, which considered green buildings in Canada, the US and the UK, concluded the market value of a building may well be linked to its `green' features.

The study indicated `green' buildings are not only likely to provide healthier places to live' and be more productive workplaces, but they are also likely to command higher rents and prices, attract tenants more quickly, reduce tenant turnover and cost less to operate and maintain - factors that will undoubtedly be taken on board by property investors in the future.

Adam Wood is a member of the property team at Blackett Hart & Pratt in Darlington. For more information, contact him on (01325) 466794.

On page 5:
Breaking new ground in the construction industry plus SHG is building big changes to develop better communities

Breaking new ground in the construction industry

Whelan Construction Development is a Newcastle-based company that has been involved in the commercial and industrial construction industry for almost 35 years. It's a firm that boasts a solid reputation and is synonymous with high quality.

Over recent years, the company has grown phenomenally and now sits within the top 2% of independent construction firms in the region.

A modern approach for a traditional firm

For a firm that has a deeply embedded family culture, Whelan has proved that innovation is the key to success.

During the last two years, the company has completely overhauled its entire operations and put in place a raft of new initiatives and strategies - a risky move for a firm that has succeeded on its tried and tested methods.

However, the results speak volumes and, following a series of industry award wins, an order book increase of 50%, office expansion and relocation plans, Whelan is well on the way to becoming the `model' construction company.

Expansion Strategy

Work has already begun on Whelan's new headquarters, which in Gosforth Business Park, Newcastle, where the firm will join the likes of TSG, Parkdean and BT.

The new premises will provide 10,000sq ft office accommodation, with specially designed workspaces, state-of-the-art communication systems and integrated technology.

The added resources will enable Whelan to cope with increased workload and larger projects.

Qualification Strategy

Significant investment in staff learning is a critical component in the Whelan expansion plan. Annual assessments and reviews, along with succession plans and substantial involvement in external educational courses are a priority in terms of staff development.

Training and Skills Strategy

Whelan have recently purchased premises, which have been modernised and adapted specifically for training purposes.

Working with local educational institutions and government bodies, the firm has developed a career path for school leavers that not only provides all the up-to-date training required to ensure a high level of skill, but also offers the opportunity of a job upon completion.

Benchmark and Innovation Strategy

Report, review and innovate - that's the basic 3-step procedure to continuous improvement at Whelan.

However, Bill Swan, managing director, says: "To assess internal operations is only half the job, as that can only highlight strengths and weaknesses.

To really appreciate how you perform, you must look to how the industry is performing on a national level, and how a firm can develop newer ways of working that will raise quality standards throughout - not just at the physical construction stage.

Our philosophy has always been to stick to the basics - delivering high quality, on time and to budget.

That still holds true, however, in an industry that is becoming commoditised we provide value by passing on industry know-how to benefit the client throughout the entire relationship. It's much more about project management and consultancy, and the overall service that Whelan provides that gives us the competitive differential".

Onwards and upwards

Despite the skills shortage that inhibits the construction industry, Whelan has moved forward with strides where other firms have barely managed steps, and with the construction market expected to remain buoyant all indications are good for the Newcastle-based firm as it continues to evolve and prove its worth in a highly competitive market.

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SHG is building big changes to develop better communities

During the last five years, the skyline of Sunderland has undergone a radical transformation. Large-scale regeneration projects have raised the profile of the city and attracted more people to live and work in the area.

Sunderland Housing Group (SHG) can justifiably say that it has played a significant role in this transformation.

Established in 2001, the group has already invested over £320m on modernisation and improvement works and, through the formation of a specialist construction arm, is set to work on a number of exciting regeneration projects both in Sunderland and beyond.

SHG was established via the transfer of 36,356 properties from Sunderland City Council, following a 73% ballot turnout with 88% approval from its customers. This is currently the largest stock transfer to date in England with the most positive tenant endorsement of any metropolitan urban area.

The group consists of five local housing companies that own the housing stock in their respective areas. Each of these companies is responsible for the landlord function, liaison and support to customers as well as local budgets and business plans.

The facts illustrate just how influential SHG is to the formation and delivery of housing strategy in Sunderland.

The city is the largest of the five Tyne and Wear local authorities with a population of around 284,000, and although its population has decreased during the last 20 years, there are definite signs that this loss is slowing. SHG is by far the dominant landlord in the city and currently owns 84% of the affordable housing stock and 27% of Sunderland's overall housing stock.

Dave Piggett, director of design and build at SHG, said: "As we developed our knowledge of local areas and customers' needs, it became clear that in some areas of the city, there were long-standing problems with unwanted housing and problems associated with multiple deprivation and neighbourhood decline.

We have responded to this by developing a wider agenda and we have added regeneration and renewal to our key promises to customers.

"People who live in the city will tell you how vibrant the place is compared with 10 years ago. However, we are not resting on our laurels and we have a number of exciting investment plans in the pipeline."

This last comment is no idle boast. Dave, who has worked with the group for a number of years, is responsible for overseeing its annual £60m investment programme and the effective running of the construction arm.

As well as driving forward the investment plan, the construction team is one of the main contractors who deliver work for other divisions of the group.

Firstly, it is responsible for building new homes across the city on behalf of Pathway Homes. In addition, it is the main contractor working with Emperor Property Management on refurbishing Sunderland's prestigious Maritime Building; building a new tower block consisting of residential and commercial property in the £9m River Quarter scheme (part of the Sunniside project in the east end of the city); and working on a £3.8m project on High Street West in conjunction with RAN, an Irish development company.

In addition, SHG is keen to broaden its horizons by seeking work outside of Sunderland. For example, the construction division is building 27 new properties in Carrville, next to the A1(M) in Durham.

SHG is also lending its expertise to the likes of Home Housing in Cramlington and Erimus in Middlesbrough by delivering a number of jobs for them.

Dave said: "It is vital that we pool our skills and resources to help build sustainable communities across the region. Increasingly, companies in the built environment are forming unique and productive partnerships with each other. It's important that more companies do this so that the North-East can continue the renaissance it has enjoyed during the last few years.

"From our own point of view, we are looking to work with other communities in the region and our specialist construction division will allow us to do just that.

"During the last few years, the North-East has experienced significant changes in the local housing market, with rising house prices and increased demand for affordable homes from would-be first-time buyers."

Indeed, building sustainable communities is at the very heart of SHG's agenda. However, this involves much more than simply bricks and mortar and the group has made a positive difference to local residents via other means.

These include the implementation of a rigorous anti-social behaviour policy in partnership with Northumbria Police and the formation of 11 focus groups to allow residents to have a greater say in how their community is run.

The first five years of SHG's existence has seen the group make a positive difference to the city of Sunderland. But the next five promise to deliver an even bigger impact, especially if the group's ambitious investment plans are anything to go by.

Either way, it seems that SHG is determined to play a prominent role in changing the skyline, not just of Sunderland, but of the whole of the North-East.

On page 6:
Progress through our people plus Elliotts team is strengthened

Progress through our people

As one of the leading building services engineering companies in the UK we are able to provide multi or single discipline building services installations from initial design to complete planned and preventative maintenance programmes, says Tom McLaughlin, regional manager of Lorne Stewart.

We are fiercely proud of our reputation for being a skilled and well-run business, able to meet and exceed our customers' expectations. Our North-East operation has its regional office in Hartlepool and a branch office which opened last February in Team Valley, Gateshead, all part of the northern division.

The office was opened to develop further our key client base, enhance our relationships with clients and increase the project opportunities in the largest city in our region.

David Duffy, our branch manager, and his team are relishing the challenges set for our NewcastleGateshead office.

Our philosophy is all about teamwork. With this philosophy our business has flourished. We employ a genuine team approach, finding solutions which provide value for money, a high-quality performance and in a timely manner, within programme.

Lots of people talk about working in partnership with contractors and suppliers but those who actually do it are few and far between.

By working as a team, we can provide value for money, flexibility and sustainability, all of which are increasingly important for our customers.

This has been the foundation of increasing our workload through repeat business and negotiating future projects with our clients, who know we can perform with quality, giving them a service which offers value for money.

The progress we have made is because of our people. They are our most important resource.

All our workforce are capable and hardworking, committed to improving their quality of workmanship and are charged with achieving the highest standards of service and customer focus at all times.

Regional manager: Tom McLaughlin. Lorne Stewart plc, Philips House, Sandgate Industrial Estate, Hartlepool TS25 1UB. Tel: (01429) 268116, fax: (01429) 860244.

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Elliotts team is strengthened

Tyne and Wear-based Elliotts has a new family member with the creation of Elliott Dent, providing cost consultancy services from offices in Sunderland, with a particular expertise in regeneration and development consultancy.

The practice joins the existing construction consultancies in the Elliott Group including Elliott Associates, Elliott Projects and Elliott Holmes Johnson, between them offering a seamless development and property consultancy service.

The Group's expertise covers regeneration and master planning, to pragmatic cost consultancy and project delivery through to asset management and building surveying.

David Dent, Elliott Dent managing director, said: "Many opportunities exist within the region and the formation of Elliott Dent will allow us to develop a service delivered by talented individuals who empathise with our clients' business needs.

This combined with the strength and expertise of the Elliott Group as a whole, provides us with a tremendous platform to support our clients".

Elliott Associates' managing partner David Pearson is confident this move strengthens the overall offering of the group: "We now have greater depth and breadth of both experience and skills and working collaboratively can give clients the confidence of dealing with a really robust organisation.

"Within Elliotts we can work with clients `from the cradle to the grave'; sourcing a development, procuring and delivering it, managing its maintenance and planning its disposal."

Elliotts is active across all sectors, with an acknowledged expertise in leisure and housing, working with three of the UK's largest national housing associations and the majority of regional associations.

The new team has already won its first significant commission with its appointment as Home Group's preferred provider for construction consultancy services in the North East.

Elliott Dent handles projects that include luxury apartments in South Tyneside and Northumberland and master planning exercises for Sunderland University.

Another current scheme is the Medical Village in North Ormesby, which involves the reclamation of derelict land and construction of a one stop shop, state of the art medical facility to serve the local community.

Elliott Dent acted as Employer's Agent and Cost Consultant for the developer, including liaising with funders, consultants and the contractor.

Elliotts is working on its largest residential project on the former Sunderland Echo building on the banks of the Wear.

Elliotts is acting as employer's agent, cost consultant and planning supervisor for the £24m Echo 24 scheme which is being developed jointly by Glenrose Developments and Tolent Construction.

In addition to 179 luxury apartments for sale, the development has shops and cafes.

The first of three new hotels is nearly completed by Elliott Projects for the Aston Hotel Group.

The 71-bedroom Aston Hotel Dumfries is scheduled to open at the end of September and will be followed by similar developments in Sheffield and Neath. Elliott Projects acts as project manager, quantity surveyor, clerk of works and procures and installs the complete fit out of the hotels.

Elliott Holmes Johnson's Managing Director, Alan Holmes, is delighted with the growth of the business.

Their projects range from Derwentside District Council's preparation for a successful tenant ballot on its stock transfer to the new not-for-profit landlord, Derwentside Homes, to acting as Lead Consultant on the conversion of a large care home into six supported living apartments for Three Rivers Housing Association.

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Business Editor
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