Business as Usual or Unusual?

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Article

15 May, 2020

With the lockdown starting to ease and plans in place for how we can get back to normal, we need to be mindful that things will not be the same or 'business as usual' for quite some time.

There is a lot to be considered in the near future and as for the construction sector in particular, what needs to be considered?

Planning

Although not many local planning authorities have reported reductions in planning applications as yet, it is important to remember that the majority of planning applications submitted since lockdown was announced on 23rd March, would have been in the pipelines well before. A number of councils have amended their constitution and are proceeding with virtual committee meetings or delegated powers, but there is the possibility of a lull in the summertime. It is fair to say that regeneration is needed to help boost the economy, given that it has been reported that the first estimates for gross domestic product (GDP) show the economy shrank by 2% in the first quarter of 2020.

Many councils are also relying more on the applicants for additional photographs or putting up notices, subject to comply with the restrictions on movement.

Sites

The construction sector has already been finding new ways to adapt to the pandemic and keeping their staff safe, with the use of the following:

  • Reduced staff numbers to allow for more social distancing. Many developers are operating at 20% but are looking to increase once safe ways of working are considered. One consideration is operating different shift patterns so less staff are on site at any given time;
  • PPE provided to staff;
  • Site visits being done virtually.

Things that require further consideration are:

  • Delivery of materials has had a major impact on construction. With the government's announcement on Sunday, encouraging those who cannot work from home to go back to work, it would be hoped that suppliers will now be able to fulfil orders of supplies;
  • Greater flexibility will be required by developers, not just in relation to contracts but also financially;
  • A number of developers are heading back to site and working out problems as and when they crop up, although more innovative ways need to be sought in relation to tasks that require more than one person. A possibility could be a buddy systems, in which the same staff work together for the foreseeable in a bid to stop the spread, which was suggested by the government for movers and tradespeople in their recent guidance on home moves in the pandemic.

Technology

Where would we all be without Zoom at the minute? We use it for meetings, catching up with friends and family, even quizzes, but it is worth noting that this technology isn't new and has been available for years. What has changed though is people's attitude to technology. We are creatures of habit and are used to do things a certain way, the pandemic has forced us to work a different way. Many people are talking about keeping some of the current ways of working after the lockdown is lifted. It is important for companies to offer their employees flexibility, whether it be working from home one day a week, working hours that fit their circumstances, albeit subject to the business need. What is key is efficiency, we need to be able to work efficiently. Can you imagine if this happened 10 years, we would not have been able to adopt as quickly and as efficiently as we have now.

Design

There are suggestions that designs of open spaces, offices and home could change because of the pandemic as people have been struggling in their environments. Potential changed to consider are:

  • Open spaces:
    • Widening new pavements or increasing those which are particularly narrow or popular with large congregations to help people getting around;
    • Creating more shared open space on developments for it to be more pleasant for occupiers.
  • Offices:
    • A lot of offices are sealed in relation to ventilation and rely on air conditioning which circulates the air around the offices, which potentially could spread the virus;
    • Lifts, stair wells and toilets tend to be compressed spaces which makes it difficult to social distance;
    • Hot desking in offices was rising in trend prior to the pandemic, as there was not always space for every employee to have their own desk. Following the pandemic, it is unlikely that this will continue for some time as sharing keyboards, etc as will create a higher risk of the spread of the virus;
  • Residential:
    • City centre apartments have been desirable for a long time but now people in a lot of these apartments are struggling as they don't have balconies and if they live high up in the block it could be difficult to get outside for fresh air or exercise, especially considering it will be unlikely to be able to social distance in a lift. Given this, there is the possibility have more balconies could be included in designs;
    • Houses may be on the increase rather than apartments, given the above;
    • Homes may be reconfigured and move away from open plan, which has traditionally been sought after, but now with families all working from home or studying from home, there is lack of privacy with open plan.

It is possible that some of these will be considered in the short term but it is unlikely that they will make a big impact in the future. The square footage and location of a property will determine the value, rather than the layout.

Transport

In the previous weeks there was less of a need for public transport, with the majority of people working from home. Given the success of virtual meetings during lockdown, there is a chance that people will continue to utilise virtual meetings after the restrictions are lifted.

It has been noticed that the air pollution has decreased in lockdown but with people now returning to work and avoiding public transport where they can, it probably won't last. Although there are small changes that we can all do that may benefit the air quality, like working from home one day a week - it's a small change that can make a big difference and which also ties in with it, it is likely that flexible working will be continuing after lockdown.

Going forward, it is safe to say that life after lockdown will not be the same as it was before but there are things we can do adapt and change for the better. The pandemic has sparked huge changes as to how people travel, shop and live, and it will be interesting to see what will happen to local small-town centres if people stay closer to home. It could breathe new life into the dormant towns. Things are very much still unknown at the moment but as they say; always look on the bright side of life!

For more information contact Adam Bromley in our Construction & Infrastructure department via email or phone on 0333 207 1158. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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