The cranes across the London skyline say it all — the capital is in the midst of a development rush. Chancellor George Osborne’s mantra "we are the builders" rings true here, and across much of the South East, but locations further afield are not experiencing the same feverish levels of activity.
The prospects for UK construction in the year ahead are therefore mixed. The Construction Products Association, which represents the industry’s manufacturers and distributors, downgraded its forecasts for 2016 in November last year, following a slowdown in construction activity in the third quarter of 2015, but it remains broadly positive. The association expects build starts for private housing to rise by five per cent in 2016, with public housing starts set to fall by the same percentage. Infrastructure output is forecast to rise by nearly eight per cent this year, as the sector continues to shine.
That is the big picture. This report looks at what the future holds for landscaping specifically, drawing on a wealth of planning data from Horticulture Week’s Landscape Project Leads service to highlight the key development sectors, locations, landscape architects and developers across the country in 2016.
Whether for homes, offices, roads or energy centres, the sensitivities of developing within the UK’s existing communities and in locations that are rich in environmental and heritage quality seem to be providing an impetus for landscaping. Its value in helping construction’s interventions fit into context and community — and its role in helping to address negative or nimby perceptions of development — is increasingly being recognised by developers across all sectors.
The number of construction projects scheduled to start over the year ahead is significantly up on 2015, but the estimated value of landscaping projects in the pipeline has fallen back. The drop in project value could reflect a changing development environment, particularly in the landscaping sector’s prime market of housebuilding. Housebuilders are no longer required by the Government to meet the design targets of the Code for Sustainable Homes, for example. It is also perhaps a sign that this is a healthier market where housebuilders no longer have to invest so heavily in features such as landscaping to enhance the kerb appeal that helps to secure sales.
Irrespective of that, housebuilding remains by far the biggest sector for landscaping, in terms of both project numbers and overall value. Homebuilders are not, however, the biggest individual spenders on landscaping. That honour goes to the developers of office and commercial space.
*Values for landscaping projects are based on a conservative guideline figure of one per cent of overall project cost.
Housebuilding wins on sheer numbers, accounting for nearly half of all projects currently in the pipeline, according to the planning data. There are almost 6,000 private housing opportunities in prospect while the social housing sector is scheduled to add a further 800 projects to the total. While the quantity of private housing projects is on the increase in 2016, social housing project numbers show a decline, reflecting uncertainty caused by shifts in Government policy away from rental to home ownership.
Looking further ahead, housing minister Brandon Lewis has said that he wants to see a million new homes built across the UK by 2020. There may be a number of hurdles between ministerial aspiration and delivery, but the Government’s continuing support for private housebuilding and home ownership — reinforced by its November spending review and autumn statement — should bring a sense of optimism to designers, contractors and suppliers.
Infrastructure also has strong Government backing and, based on projects in the pipeline, is the biggest riser among the sectors. The utilities sector had around 250 projects in progress in 2015 but there are almost 1,200 in its forward pipeline. Civil engineering infrastructure’s pipeline — roads, bridges and public transport — has more than doubled from 192 to 544 projects. Taken together, the overall infrastructure sector has 1,738 projects coming up and there is the potential for the supply of contracts to continue to be healthy, given Government appetite for transport investment and the pressing need for renewable energy.
Industry follows closely behind infrastructure, with 1,720 projects in prospect, followed by hotels and leisure, then education and retail. As with social housing, schools projects are feeling the adverse effects of policy change and financial constraints. These factors have remained dominant across the local authority sector for some time and the indications are that things can only get tougher in the future.
In 2015, the bulk of housebuilding’s landscaping projects fell into the £10,000 to £1m value range, but looking ahead the majority of projects fall into the less than £50,000 category. However, the industrial, retail, infrastructure and hotel and leisure sectors are all seeing a lift in future project values, with the number of civil engineering landscaping projects worth £1m to £10m having almost doubled over the year.
When considered on an individual basis, however, the office and commercial sector continues to make the biggest investment in landscaping. Its corporate headquarters buildings rely on a high-quality public realm or office park setting to complement their architecture and showcase business values.
Understanding our data
This forecast is based on an analysis of construction products involving landscaping works in the UK. We have analysed data for projects in progress in 2015 and for projects with planning permission that are in the pipeline for 2016. Data came from Horticulture Week’s Landscape Project Leads service with additional data from our specialist provider and local authority sources.
Values for landscaping projects are based on a conservative guideline figure of one per cent of overall project cost and so should be considered as indicative. Quality schemes can be as much as five per cent. Mixed-use projects are generally categorised under the sector that represents the bulk of development. In most instances, this is residential. Data were extracted in November 2015.