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Young architects launch petition calling for all building sites to be shut down

Shutterstock construction site shut

Young architects have launched a petition urging the government to shut down the thousands of still-operating construction sites in the UK to stop the spread of the coronavirus

The Architecture Foundation’s Young Network, which is behind the petition, said the profession had a responsibility to demand the closures and protect the health of those who continue to work on site.

The Network argues that, despite their best efforts, construction workers cannot maintain the 2m social distance recommended by the government, putting themselves and their families at risk.

Although many contractors have now locked up their development plots (see Projects paused as contractors shut sites amid lockdown confusion) there are others, such as Willmott Dixon, that have kept them open today (26 March).

Earlier this week, prime minister Boris Johnson imposed a strict national lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak but stopped short of ordering construction sites to close. An email, seen today (26 March) by the AJ’s sister title Construction News, from a senior prime ministerial adviser said the government was not closing construction sites nor was it encouraging them to. Number 10 said that, although the situation was developing, there were no plans to force sites to halt works.

However the online petition is now calling for the total closure of all sites. It states: ‘Construction workers are unable to do their work and social distance at the same time putting the health of themselves, and in turn their families and the wider public, at risk.

It continues: ‘All other industries have sacrificed progression and profit for this public health crisis and the construction industry must do the same.

’This decision should not be left to site managers and developers. We need a government mandate to close all non-essential construction sites.’

Hanna Benihoud, of London-based Hanna Benihoud Studio, an Architecture Foundation young trustee, told the AJ: ‘I have been shocked and saddened by the lack of social distancing on site, which is not the workers’ fault – it is just not possible.

‘I hope practices put their head above the parapet and speak up. Responsible developers have closed by choice, but hundreds haven’t. We must stand together as an industry.’

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 earlier this week 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 Construction News, Mace has stopped work on its projects, such as WilkinsonEyre’s Battersea Power Station and Renzo Piano’s Paddington Cube.

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 confirmed it, too, had suspended work on site 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 wellbeing of all site staff and the public must take priority. Flatten the curve.’

And today, Reigart Contracts announced that ‘in line with the guidance from the Scottish Government, the company has suspended clearance work in the Mackintosh Building until further notice.

Meanwhile, the Glasgow School of Art said it had suspended all non-urgent works across its Garnethill campus.

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, including:

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

Galliard All sites, including:

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, including:

Battersea Power Station, WilkinsonEyre
N06 East Village, Hawkins\Brown
One Crown Place, KPF
Paddington Square, Renzo Piano Building Workshop

Glasgow School of Art All non-essential works, including fire-damage clearance at the Mack


Readers' comments (3)

  • As always, calls for blanket enforcement action in one particular direction deserve careful consideration;
    Some construction sites - not involving architecture in the usual sense - might present greater risks overall if they're 'frozen' than if they're continued to completion.
    My obvious example is the new seawall being constructed at Dawlish. to protect the only railway link to South Devon, Plymouth and Cornwall.
    If you look at the webcam it's clear that progress doesn't depend on people working shoulder to shoulder, and the real health risks are more likely in the site offices and mess rooms.
    If progress is halted the half finished precast panel wall is obviously vulnerable to damage from sea storms, and in this context calls for a blanket shut-down are ill-considered.

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  • John Gilbert Architects

    In Scotland, the Scottish Government have advised, on a number of occasions that all 'non essential' construction sites should close and I am pleased to say that most of our sites have complied with this guidance, despite the considerable difficulty this causes for Contractors and their staff.
    If construction work continues then the supply chain has to continue, the inspection has to continue, the financial institutions need to continue. Its not just about workers on site but those supporting across the industry.

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  • Someone needs to contact all the small scale residential builders too

    We very much doubt they will be taking heed of the current crisis unless under pressure from their clients

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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