Schemes such as PLP’s City skyscraper 22 Bishopsgate and Squire & Partners’ The Broadway in St James Park and Chelsea Barracks were put on hold today (24 March) as global construction firm Multiplex closed its 14 sites.
A string of major firms followed suit, including housebuilder Taylor Wimpey, London residential developer Galliard and ISG.
Yesterday evening, the prime minister imposed a strict national lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak but stopped short of ordering construction sites to close, leaving many contractors in limbo.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick then advised the construction industry to work from home where possible, but added those who needed to go on site should keep to Public Health England’s guidelines on social distancing.
The advice sparked concern from workers who questioned the feasibility of this advice. Many posted pictures of busy site canteens and workers packed into tube trains under the hashtag #shutthesites.
In response to the growing concern over safety, major contractors have decided to take matters into their own hands and suspend work voluntarily, meaning work will stop on a swathe of projects across the country.
Just heard that my project’s site in Winchester has been closed by the contractor. For me it means a clear run to close things out, update as-builts information, as the project is near to completion #constructionuk @riba @ArchitectsJrnal
— Tim Wash Your Hands Stephens (@timstephens88) March 24, 2020
Galliard said it was closing its sites with ‘immediate effect’, a decision that would remove some 2,500 construction workers from London’s transport network.
Galliard chief executive Don O’Sullivan hit out at the ‘confusing and conflicting messages’ from central government and the London Mayor’s office. He said Galliard was closing in support of the ’world class superheroes in the NHS’.
Executive chairman Stephen Conway added: ‘Supporting the NHS and protecting lives is the sole priority at present. Our teams can return to helping build our great capital when this crisis abates.’
Galliard’s live projects include Fourfoursix’s former South London Royal Mail sorting office in Nine Elms.
Meanwhile, in an update to investors, Taylor Wimpey said it was also closing all of its showhomes, sales centres, and construction sites ‘in the interest of customer and employee safety’.
Global construction company ISG, which has around 150 sites across the UK, said it would ‘act ahead of government advice’ and suspend work on sites that did not meet an ‘enhanced risk profile test’.
Chief executive Paul Cossell said: ‘We must act now and do so decisively to protect the welfare of people across the industry. I believe that by taking this decisive action we will keep our people, customers, supply chain and the general public safe. Nothing is more important.’
Yesterday, the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said all building sites in the country should be closed to prevent unnecessary deaths.
While Sturgeon’s instructions are not legally binding, the Scottish leader did say she would soon have powers to compel businesses across a range of sectors to stop operating if they were flouting official advice.
Construction sites are open as usual across the UK, this photo was taken twenty minutes ago on a site at Waterloo.
— Dan Dobson (@DanJDobson) March 23, 2020