Drop in orders fuels landscape concern

Private domestic work the only bright spot as latest figures reveal significant falls in construction orders and output.

Construction: lack of large infrastructure jobs impacting the sector (image: Morguefile)
Construction: lack of large infrastructure jobs impacting the sector (image: Morguefile)

Landscape professionals are looking with anxiety at the design and build market after two sets of figures revealed a big drop in orders and outputs in construction.

Landscape designers, contractors and suppliers spoke out after the Office for National Statistics found construction output across all sectors fell almost 10 per cent in the second quarter against a year ago.

This came a day after the Construction Products Association found output for large and medium-sized building contractors down in four of the past five quarters. Overall orders fell 25 per cent in the first quarter and by 50 per cent in the second.

Former BALI chair Paul Cowell said: "Private domestic work is holding up but commercial projects are suffering and there are no large infrastructure jobs."

Contractors have to maximise efficiency, invest in marketing and be web-based or more locally driven to keep fuel costs down, he advised. Cowell has won work from builders by training staff to tackle bricklaying for retaining walls. "Another great source is your local authority planning website. There's not much housing but often a few small commercial jobs."

Andrew Richardson, joint managing director at Johnsons of Whixley, which supplies landscape contractors, said: "We normally contract grow for big developers but have had not a single job. There is work for small and medium-sized projects and we are above budget. A lot of projects are value-engineering landscape architects off the job because contractors are winning them at 15 per cent below costs and have to make a profit. The industry is like the Wild West right now."

Landscape architect and consultant Peter Neal added: "We're in a double-dip recession that may lead to a triple dip next year. This is bitterly ironic - the sector has shown world-class credentials with the Olympic Park.

"Talk of a plan B including significant funding for new infrastructure is increasing. Just one per cent of the £80bn Funding for Lending launched through the Bank of England this month could pay for one new park for each of the UK's 66 cities."

Inside view

"This is rapidly becoming a crisis and I wouldn't be surprised if manufacturers shut down operations and lay off staff. The concern for landscape architects and contractors is that this fall is happening across all sectors. Government must focus on immediate construction work, which calls for actual investment to replace rhetoric."

Noble Francis, economics director, Construction Products Association.

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