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Projects paused as contractors shut sites amid lockdown confusion


Work has stopped on schemes across England as contractors shut down sites amid ‘confusion’ over government advice on whether they should stay open

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 housebuilders Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Homes, London residential developer Galliard and ISG.

Major housing association L&Q confirmed it had closed all its sites for three weeks, while according to the AJ’s sister title, Mace has stopped work on its projects such as WilkinsonEyre’s Battersea Power Station and Renzo Piano’s Paddington Cube.

Lendlease decided to close its sites from tomorrow (25 March) for 48 hours to ’assess the types of work that will be able to continue safely’.

However major contractor Balfour Beatty confirmed it is is not closing sites and said it would remain open where it was able to appropriately implement industry guidance on social distancing.

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.

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, CZWG’s Islington Square, Perkins & Will’s The Stage in Shoreditch and Claridge Architects’ Timber Yard in Birmingham.

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’.

We have found that social distancing on construction sites is extremely difficult to achieve

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.’

In a statement, L&Q said in the interest of customer and employee safety it had taken the decision to close all its sites. 

’We have found that social distancing on construction sites is extremely difficult to achieve. Added to this in London, our construction workers are heavy users of the public transport network. L&Q wants to be part of the effort to maintain the safety of our transport network for critical key workers, and we also want to be part of the national campaign to halt the spread of the virus.’

Crossrail has confirmed it too had been suspended to help limit the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking about the decision Chris Williamson, founding partner of Weston Williamson which was working on the nearly completed Paddington and Woolwich stations, said: ’It was the right thing to do. It must be almost impossible on any building site to practice social distancing and the well-being of all site staff and the public must take priority. Flatten the curve.’

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.

Closed sites

Taylor Wimpey - all sites

L&Q - all sites

Crossrail - all sites including

Paddington station, Weston Williamson
Woolwich station, Weston Williamson

Barratt Homes - all sites

Multiplex - all sites

22 Bishopsgate, PLP
The Broadway, Squire & Partners
Chelsea Barracks, Squire & Partners

Galliard - all sites

Harbour Central, Rolfe Judd
Stadia 3 Wimbledon, Sheppard Robson
Timber Yard Birmingham, Claridge Architects
Tower Bridge Road, DLA Architecture
The Stage, Perkins & Will
Islington Square, CZWG

ISG - most sites

Mace - all sites

Battersea Power Station, WilkinsonEyre
N06 East Village, Hawkins\Brown
One Crown Place, KPF
Paddington Square, RPBW 



Readers' comments (3)

  • Now, let me see, who is it that's running the Department for Chaos and Confusion?

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  • Not closing sites for the 3 weeks is a joke- Dan's photo says it all. They will be breeding grounds for the virus when the whole point is to try to allow those infected to come out the other side and stop being infectious to others. It's a complete contradiction of Boris's message to the nation on Monday.

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  • Industry Professional

    If there is a contract deadline that needs to be met then it is up to the Client to suspend it under the CDM obligations.
    Personally I think it is unacceptable for people and firms to feel that they have to work on a site because they have no choice but to meet the Contract concerned.
    It should PURELY be down to whether they can work in compliance with the current Government guidance or not. For example, could works such as those water-proofing and achieving water-tightness continue but not those doing full-on fitting out. How about even just only one trade per area?
    I do accept that hospital extensions and the like could be classed as exceptions.
    I understand what the Government are trying to do but some people always try to find excuses and loopholes to do what they want rather than to follow the spirit of the guidance.
    Jeffrey - an engineer via the IHS

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