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Perfect storm or burning platform? Better together - excellence in 2014 and beyond

November 24th, 2013 | Author: Don Ward

Last week was the annual gathering of the 50+ national, regional, local and younger generation organisations that make up the UK Constructing Excellence movement. Peter Hansford, the government’s chief construction advisor, presented the joint government-industry Construction 2025 vision, but it emerged in the convention hall that for CE and the leading edge of the industry, this is not ambitious enough, we need those levels of performance sooner.

The sector is being driven to do more for less, and to think globally and long-term, not just locally and short-term, about the solutions it offers. We face major challenges in delivery, for example in housebuilding, schools, low carbon refurbishment, water and rail programmes. The industry needs to make a step change in such delivery. The economy has created a ‘burning platform’ and a fundamental challenge to the way we do business and the future prosperity of our industry, and leading players need to respond radically. We need to move beyond incremental efficiency improvement and so-called best practice to achieve genuinely exceptional performance so that it figures among the world’s leaders. These leaders will:

• have increasingly global, long-term business models,
• be data and knowledge-rich,
• be able to fund, deliver, operate and manage at higher levels of risk,
• be coordinated – not fragmented – and collaborative in their approach to innovation, and
• as a result, be rewarded for the value they create.

The business relationship between client and contractor will be revolutionised. Businesses will only survive if they can deliver client outcomes and create improved performance that allow the UK industry to thrive at home and to compete at a global level. Key to this is to see the sector as the built environment supply chain, from operation and management of built facilities to commissioning, assembling, manufacturing and design. ‘Right to left thinking’, or the ‘increasing circles’ as the CE fraternity has grown to label them.

Industry business model needs to change from a vertical contracting model, with profit derived mainly through revenue, to an integrated model where organisations get rewarded for the value they create. Industry needs to stimulate innovation and overcome the structural, transactional, contractual and competitive barriers which currently fragments its efforts.

In short, the industry needs to be remodelled to create the clear, predictable and sustainable long-term value that will be increasingly demanded by investors, customers and end-users.

My next blog will cover some of the practical things that the Constructing Excellence convention challenged leading companies to address.

(This article first appeared on

Government trials, not tribulations

November 1st, 2013 | Author: Don Ward

In its 2011 Government Construction Strategy setting out how the public sector clients need to improve, the Cabinet Office proposed three new procurement models to be trialled in support of the target to achieve savings of 15-20% by 2014/15. The procurement models were Integrated Project Insurance (IPI), Cost Led Procurement, and Two Stage Open Book. All three models are based on delivery by integrated project teams working collaboratively, and it is expected that, alongside reduced costs, the models will contribute to improved programme certainty, reduced risk, greater innovation, and improved relationships across the supply chain.

Over the last year most central government departments have put forward projects to trial these new models, including Environment Agency, Ministry of Justice (demonstrating integration with BIM), Ministry of Defence, Homes and Communities Agency, and a number of local authorities. IPI is a radical new approach with potential for a step change, and is getting its first ‘commercial outing’ in this programme, for which the project team are to be commended. The other two are well proven in parts of the public as well as private sector, and we can point to many early adopters in the last ten years or so, including in the Constructing Excellence demonstration programmes. So it is that the latter two have published their first case studies under the Cabinet Office led programme. Early findings already indicate that smarter procurement focused on earlier supply chain involvement is delivering the targeted sustainable cost reductions.

By 2015/16 BIM level 2 will be mandatory, and these models will be expected to be embedded as business as usual in procurement and delivery processes of government construction projects. Therefore all contractors wanting to win work with the public sector from 2015/16 onwards should be ready to operate the processes and behaviours required.

For more information, including downloading the individual case studies, see the Government website or e-mail

(This article first appeared on

Reach out to your local university

September 19th, 2013 | Author: Don Ward

Much has been written about the government’s new sector strategy Construction 2025 published in July. The summary document is a good clear read and well worth a few minutes to review. To be honest, we’ve seen much of it before, and that’s good, we’ve known how the sector needs to improve for years and we need some continuity in driving forward towards that vision.

Perhaps the main break-through is that this is one of a series of sector strategies from HMG, others include nuclear, automotive (of course), aerospace, professional and business services, agriculture, offshore wind. For the first time this is explicit recognition that construction is up there as a key strategic sector for growth, both in its own right and as an enabler of success in those other sectors, most of whom are important customers of built environment in its different forms.

Another factor which the other strategies have in common is that they came with announcements about big government investment in joint government-industry research programmes. Ours was notably silent on this, and therein lies a fundamental weakness. The other sectors feature stand-out big players, e.g. Rolls Royce, who have their own big R&D programmes and which the government can leverage with matching funding. Where are the equivalent programmes in our sector? Not within the sector, but at places like BRE and in our universities.

As Constructing Excellence members found at a recent meeting with 20 universities, universities in our sector are facing research funding cuts due to the end of big funded programmes, reduced student numbers due to fees, and competition from these other well-funded sectors. Built environment departments need our help, both to make the case for government research programmes, and to build stronger links between the sector’s leading edge players in the contracting and consulting communities.

So, who is your local university, and have you made contact? Can you reach out, learn what their issues are, learn about their latest research and harvest some ideas for your business, or support them in their teaching or research programmes by providing in-kind support. Everyone should connect to their local university, they are a gold-mine if you can work together.

(This article first appeared on

How did the Government Construction Summit move us forwards?

July 5th, 2013 | Author: Don Ward

Post by Don Ward, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence. The Government Construction Summit took place on 2nd July 2013. A shorter version of this article appeared in Building magazine.

Lord Deighton is always refreshing, and opened the summit by promising “it is not about new initiatives but getting stuff done”. Ironically he was followed onto stage by Michael Fallon to launch the Industrial Strategy for construction. OK, the strategy is more of a vision than an initiative, targeting 33-50% improvements by 2025 in costs (thankfully both capex and whole life are mentioned this time), time, emissions and exports performance, and is silent on how to achieve these, so a lot of faith is put in the new Construction Leadership Council to deliver on the how. This Council has lots of progress to build on and plenty of ideas to draw on from organisations like Constructing Excellence, BRE, Buildoffsite and in academia. Let’s hope it wants them.

As one questioner noted, we have had ambitious target before, to which Fallon replied that compared with Egan (and Latham) the new strategy has commitment from Ministers and industry leaders. I don’t recall a lack of commitment when hundreds of industry leaders attended the launch of Rethinking Construction in 1998, or when Nick Raynsford was Construction Minister, or from thousands upon thousands of people who have engaged in the Constructing Excellence movement ever since. This “radical transformation” to 2025 is not radical any more, it has been socialised for at least 20 years and we are well on the way, but if Ministers are signalling that their interest in our sector will last beyond the run-up to the next Election then that is welcome. We are “a fantastic industry”, as Deighton said, but an industry inherently slow to change because our projects and hence learning cycles are longer than other sectors, so you have to judge progress in years not months, and that doesn’t often suit Political attention spans.

Other highlights of the Summit for me included:

- Our early outputs from the government’s trial projects programme already indicate that smarter procurement focusing on earlier supply chain involvement is delivering 10-20% improvements in value for money.
- The latest report on government cost benchmarks – a classic example that if you measure it then you can start to manage it, the bigger departments are getting a better handle on what built environment should cost, and sharing ideas for managing project performance better.
- BIM, of course – the best example since the safety summit of 2001 of how a concerted government intervention can speed up change in the sector.
- The strategy refers to improving the bridge between industry and research, and as our own conference with 25 universities last week showed, this feeling is absolutely shared by academics and the industry research organisations.
- Hansford referred to occupational health as needing the same focus that safety has had, our Clients Group deserves credit for raising this.

Above all, the summit confirmed a buy-in to collaborative working and integration. Hansford pointed to a major need for the skills of transformational change within the sector, and to quote Deighton, “it’s now all about delivery”.

The Constructing Excellence Social Media Task Group

January 30th, 2013 | Author: CE Admin

Guest post by Paul Wilkinson of

The inaugural meeting of Constructing Excellence’s social media task group was held in London on 11 October, with participation by CE members from across the UK, from public and private sector, from clients through to materials suppliers (helping underline the breadth of the CE movement). A date for a second meeting is in the process of being confirmed.

At the first meeting, I used a presentation (link) giving an overview of social media trends and a guide to the main tools. With Twitter, Facebook and blogs now widely used across television and other media, including our specialist publications in the built environment, I explained how we now have more tools in our communications toolbox. The CE social media task group aims to collate knowledge and experience in using the various tools and techniques to:

  • share knowledge and provide guidance across CE about best practice in using social tools and technologies
  • widen involvement in CE activities and events (from local clubs to national networks such as G4C)
  • improve access to and dissemination of content from CE activities and events (the CE website is to be upgraded to provide more opportunity for two-way discussion too), and
  • help members across the movement connect with counterparts who share similar interests (eg: on other issues such as sustainability, BIM, nuclear, infrastructure, etc)

If you would like to come to the next SM task group meeting (or if you cannot attend but would like to be kept informed), please email, and we would welcome ideas for subjects that people might like to discuss at the meeting. Wikipedia (and other wikis) is one possible topic, and, if time, technology and know-how allow, we may even try to take the session online.

So consider this a farewell message… by Jon de Souza

July 24th, 2012 | Author: CE Admin

So consider this a farewell message. Having been at Constructing Excellence for nearly nine years I’ve seen tremendous change in our sector. The industry, and how clients approach it, has changed for the better in pockets. Certainly now, central Government is a much better procurer than at any other time that I can remember. Local Government performance is, well, let’s say patchy.

Leaving CE gives me an opportunity to raise some of the things that I believe are still an issue. So, typical disclaimer, these are my views not those of the organisation but here are ten things I would like to see change.


Make your minds up on domestic retrofit

We’ve got a national target to reduce carbon by 80% by 2050. Domestic buildings are responsible for around 25% of carbon emissions. Of the buildings that will exist in 2050 at least 70% exist now. That includes rows and rows of old, typically energy inefficient homes. Some sort of programme to improve the energy efficiency of homes is absolutely necessary. So far, so obvious.

Government has talked a good game – Feed in Tariffs, Eco, Green Deal. But the actions of Government have, so far, entirely undermined the market. We’ve been involved in delivering a retrofit business support programme in London and it’s clear that the SME sector has no confidence that any of the retrofit market (which has been estimated as having a potential value of £14bn) will trickle its way down to them. Green Deal is a fabulous idea but it’s structured in such a way that will only undermine consumer confidence. What kind of independent assessment will take place when the independent assessor is appointed by a party with a financial interest in the results? And what were they thinking when the interest rate for the Green Deal loan was set at around 7%? When consumers can get a far better loan interest rate after five minutes on something like then you know things are screwy.

If the intention is to cut domestic carbon emissions then back it up with policy that works; the sort of thing that our friends at UK-GBC campaigned for in their Pay As You Save work in the first place.

Stop reinventing support structures

A plea to Government – where industry is doing something and doing it well, don’t then set up something new on the same theme. Work with, influence the debate and direction of travel but don’t try to own. All that then happens is that, when Government steps away, as it inevitably does, all that is left is a vacuum.

Does, for example, Government need to fund a measurement group for the Green Construction Board when the UK-GBC has had a successful measurement group? Is a Government funded group considering export opportunities for UK companies and international best practice really necessary when CE International already exists with just that purpose?

Where industry is funding something, get involved in that – it’s far more likely to provide a sustainable legacy.

Localism? Really?

Ah, localism. The unwanted stepchild of Government policy. Maybe this is my failing but I really can’t tell you what localism means for construction. Is it what was suggested during the election – that local people can take control of public services and therefore responsibility for construction procurement? (Because what we really need are more clients that don’t understand how to buy built assets). I don’t think that’s what Government means by localism as none of its strategic actions in the Government Construction Strategy suggest that’s the case. If anything procurement is being more centralised.

Is localism just a drive to ensure local SMEs are used in supply chains and local people are given employment opportunities so that spending can be recycled in the local economy? I don’t think that’s what Government means by localism as it’s simply not new policy - public sector clients have been able to set such requirements for as long as I can remember.

Is localism the freedom for local authorities to procure in the way they want? I don’t think that’s what Government means by localism as that freedom generally already exists.

If none of these things are localism, then what is localism? Please, somebody, enlighten me.

And localism brings us on to…

Why accept poor use of public money?

The Government Construction Strategy is great. CE could have written it, so embedded is the integration and collaborative working agenda. The Strategy demonstrates that central Government clients understand how to drive value through construction procurement and are committed to doing so over the life of this Parliament.

And that’s great. But central Government only accounts for around 40% of total public sector construction spend. Government has always shied away from requiring local authorities and other clients that receive public money to behave in a particular way. But if there is such a great recognition that one way of approaching the market delivers value and another way madness lies, then surely conditions can be attached to public money to ensure that good practice approaches to procurement are used.

There have been many attempts to gently encourage local authorities and social landlords and these have had some success but ultimately have not had sufficient traction to change behaviours. Local authority procurement is mixed. Some local authority clients are brilliant – Birmingham and Manchester City Councils for example. But lots use rubbish traditional tendering. If gentle persuasion isn’t going to work then just find a way to force the right behaviours. Otherwise built assets will continue to be bought like paperclips.

Stop thinking that investment in long-term infrastructure will create jobs now

The UKCG did a great job in the LEK report at demonstrating the value of construction, especially in how it drives employment. And as an industry we’ve done very well at showing how important long-term investment in UK infrastructure is. But, Government seems to confuse two things. Investment in infrastructure is vital for continued UK competitiveness but it won’t necessarily drive short-term employment. For this you need to invest in social infrastructure projects, i.e. schools, hospitals. Both things are important. Right now we haven’t quite got the balance right. 


Enough with the frameworks already

No, really, please. Frameworks are great. I love frameworks. When they’re properly structured to give SMEs a chance and properly performance managed to drive improvement and, basically, not just a lazy way of avoiding going to OJEU for four years. But clients, you don’t all need a framework.

Right now it seems that it’s de rigeur for clients, especially those in local government and social housing, to set up a framework and go to great lengths to ensure that everyone can use it. Clients then have a dizzying array of frameworks through which they can procure.

What does this cause? Massive wasted effort from client teams, a huge amount of wasted bidding effort from suppliers and then subsequent disappointment when the expected quantity of work isn’t put through a framework as there are so many competing for clients’ favour.

Someone needs to map the existing frameworks, see where they overlap and come up with a plan for future consolidation. CE would be up for doing that if someone wants to talk to us about it.

The quality score fallacy

How many times have I heard this:
“We let it purely on lowest price as we knew that the quality scores for the bidders would be about the same.”

My response – “You’re asking the wrong questions.”

Seriously, we keep hearing that this industry is different. Some sort of particularist approach is required to get best value. If that really is the case then structure quality-based assessments so they give weight to those things that are important to you as a client. And work out what those things are early and tell everyone so, if they apply to you, you don’t make a mess of European procurement rules.

It’s ok to be dumb

We hear a lot nowadays about ‘the intelligent client’. And that’s great. As many clients as possible should be intelligent. But let’s face it, that’s just not plausible for the vast majority of organisations that buy construction.

So, if you don’t have the capacity/capability to have an intelligent client function as part of your organisations what should you do? Well, the worst thing you can do is to behave like you know what you’re doing.

For a start, don’t produce a detailed input based specification – all you’ll do is lock out potential innovation. No – in this case an outcome-based specification will be better. Let the supply side respond and see what they come up with.

And, get external advice. Of course, that includes consultants. But, actually, regular clients are more than happy to help those that only procure occasionally. Get in touch with the Construction Clients’ Group. Some excellent construction procurers are there to help you.


No, really, integrate you bastards

I love that Paul Morrell did a presentation called ‘Integrate You Bastards’. Nothing more awesome than that in the last few years. But, basically, the industry still gives lip service to the whole idea. Payment terms are still rubbish and contractors regularly procure down the supply chain by lowest cost rather than by value.

Worst still is the tendency for exploitation by integration. Contractors still get ‘partners’ in at an early stage to input into discussions on design and buildability, take their ideas before letting the whole package on a lowest price basis. Until we get to a stage where those that innovate are fairly recompensed for their ideas, either through guarantees of work or payments as consultants, the whole idea of real integration is hollow.

Polyphonic Spree

CE is an industry body. There are about 300 industry bodies in all. Of those, many claim to ‘represent the industry’. They don’t. And what happens is that they all compete for attention and importance to the extent that actually they are all undermined.

As an industry we agree about 80% of things that affect us. But generally when we get together we concentrate on the 20%. And all Government sees is an industry divided.

So, let’s not try to speak one voice, let’s try to be a choir. As an industry that is responsible for around 8% of GDP we deserve more attention from Government, but we won’t achieve this is if we can’t at least to sing in harmony.

Constructing Excellence

You know what, Constructing Excellence is one of the best things to ever happen to our industry. I’m sure that, if it weren’t for CE’s work, central Government wouldn’t have moved towards integrated working to such a great extent.

CE relies on industry support. I can conceive of no good reason why an organisation would not want to be part of the Constructing Excellence movement. So, come on everyone, especially those of you that have profited from positioning yourselves as an organisation that believes in integration, come and get involved.

Constructing Excellence position on Site Waste Management Plans

March 21st, 2012 | Author: CE Admin

It is with disappointment that we greet the news that Site Waste Management Plan legislation is due to be scrapped as part of Government’s Red Tape Challenge.

According to figures from the Constructing Excellence KPIs, construction waste has been cut by a third since the legislation came into place in 2008. Although a number of companies had understood the business benefits of better managing waste prior to the legislation, this good practice, as industry performance figures demonstrated, was by no means widespread. The 2008 act essentially forced companies to consider how waste would be disposed of. Put simply the legislation was required as there was a market failure. Since then WRAP has launched its excellent Halving Waste to Landfill campaign which has seen leading-edge companies commit to making substantial improvements in their waste performance.

I understand the Defra argument in scrapping the legislation. Their view is that better site waste management is about better business and it’s not Government’s role to get businesses to make better decisions. If site waste only had an economic impact then I would have sympathy with this view but clearly that isn’t the case. Our construction market has in many cases lagged behind some of our European peers in how it considers aspects of environmental sustainability, including waste. The legislation provided an impetus for companies to better manage waste thereby having both economic and environmental benefits. While Government won’t legislate for the former it can and should for the latter.

The other argument is that the legislation has done its job - Site Waste Management Plans are now a normal part of project delivery having had them mandated for four years. The expectation is that Plans will continue to be created even when there is not legislation that requires them. I’m not sure this is the case. Many companies in our sector understand the link between environmental and economic performance – they get that managing waste properly is a benefit not a cost. But in these difficult economic times there will be swathes of the industry that see this Government roll back as an opportunity to go backwards themselves. Clearly, the positioning here is important as well. What kind of message does it send industry if the ‘greenest Government ever’ decides that Site Waste Management Plans are no longer necessary?

The Site Waste Management Plan legislation wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. And there were substantial issues around enforcement. But in our opinion that meant that the legislation needed to be improved and maybe the scope of the Plans to be widened to consider resource efficiency rather than just waste.

We at Constructing Excellence think this is a retrograde step and that the Government has sacrificed legislation where there is still risk of market failure to drive deregulation. The scrapping of the legislation is too much too soon. We will commit to working with industry to ensure that site waste good practice continues to be highlighted. As such we commit to:
• Continuing to collect data on site waste as part of the KPI data collection process. We can then demonstrate any changes in industry performance as a result of the scrapping of the legislation (just as we were able to show improvements following its introduction)
• Urge the few Constructing Excellence members that are yet to do so to sign up to WRAP’s Halving Waste to Landfill campaign
• Refresh the links to site waste best practice on the Constructing Excellence website
• Work with other bodies including BRE, WRAP and UK-GBC to understand how the industry thinks this should be taken forward

Greenwash, green rush, green light? (by Ruth De Mierre)

September 13th, 2011 | Author: CE Admin

The challenge of the low carbon target the UK has set itself to achieve by 2050 is tough and the built environment sector has one of the biggest tasks of all if the target is to be achieved.

It’s a great opportunity, of course, for every part of the construction sector; from the architects and planners to the builders, plumbers, heating engineers and electricians. Not surprisingly, people have piled in with sustainable construction solutions for new build and retrofit, but which is snake oil and which ‘eureka’?

Right now, there’s a lot of work going on to measure what works and what doesn’t by, among others, the Technology Strategy Board.

This knowledge is beginning to emerge but getting it to the right people at the sharp end of the industry, especially those thousands of smaller firms who will probably do much of the retrofit work, is the next challenge.

That’s what the FLASH+ programme, led by the Institute for Sustainability, aims to do. FLASH+ is managed by the South East Centre for the Built Environment (SECBE), which is organising a programme of knowledge sharing events – conferences, workshops and site visits - to spread the best available knowledge to help smaller businesses in the sector to grab their share of a growing market.

Places are limited; there’s only capacity on this FREE programme for 250 South East companies. Don’t delay – to find out more visit

*The FLASH + project is part-financed by the South East European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) Competitiveness Programme 2007-13, with the aim of promoting sustainable production and consumption whilst helping to reduce the South East ecological footprint.

Why the TCN Top 100 is broken (by Jon de Souza)

April 14th, 2011 | Author: CE Admin

The Twitterverse has been abuzz today with publication of the TCN Top 100. The aim was to produce, in league table format, a ranking of those that demonstrate the most influence across the built environment sector through use of Twitter. The list was organised by the good folk at The Construction Network using the Peer Index engine and was published today in Construction News.

At Constructing Excellence we’ve had a long-standing interest in social media. We were the first membership body in the sector to start using Twitter as a communication tool and have recently delivered a social media symposium to help our members understand how to use web 2.0 not only for marketing but also to deliver projects better.

While I commend the idea I’m afraid that I have significant concerns about the methodology that has reached the results that have been published today. Partially, I’m incredibly surprised that Constructing Excellence wasn’t included in the list. One of our key strengths is our influence. We engage on Twitter a reasonable amount. It is actually quite damaging to our brand to suggest that we’re not particularly influential and to, by omission, publish this within the national trade press. However, the main impetus for this post isn’t to express my (very real) frustration that Constructing Excellence isn’t in the Top 100 but to express concerns with the entire methodology.

In fact, I would suggest that the TCN Top 100 is not a measure of influence in the built environment sector; the calculation methodology that produced the results seems to be broken. Some of these issues are down to Peer Index calculation methodology; some are down to the way in which the Top 100 itself was calculated. Some of my concerns are below:

1) While the TCN Top 100 is meant to be a measure of influence in a particular sector, what has been published is actually a simple league table of Peer Index scores. Peer Index scores take into account all tweets, be they related to the built environment sector or not. So, within the Top 100 are actually a number of Twitter users that only engage with built environment issues occasionally but place quite highly because they have derived a strong Peer Index score.

Furthermore, quite a lot of the tweeters also use Twitter as a means of social communication. Again, Peer Index scores reflect these tweets as well. In some cases those within the Top 100 have not tweeted anything at all on the built environment sector in literally months. For the TCN Top 100 to be considered as a serious measure of influence on the built environment sector then surely only tweets related to the sector should be considered. Otherwise, you’re asking those serious built environment Tweeters to compete against those that comment on marketing and IT and football and making omelettes. Without that filtering the results are meaningless. In fact, because Twitter is a social medium one could also argue that Peer Index positively rewards those that Tweet on social activities.

2) The issue above relates to the wholesale use of Peer Index scores. Now let’s look at Peer Index itself. Peer Index calculates its scores from three sub-measures – authority, audience and activity. The ways in which audience and activity are measured seem reasonably sensible. Authority appears not to work at all.

Peer Index states that it builds up an ‘authority finger print on a category-by-category level using eight benchmark topics’. This totally fails to reflect the way we think about authority in our daily lives. Authority, by its nature, is specific but Peer Index uses eight areas as diverse as sport, leisure and lifestyle, health and finance to calculate its authority total. Quite simply it rewards generalists not real authorities.

The authority score also seems to reward the posting of links. Therefore, those that signpost content on others’ websites will score better than those that post original thought directly onto Twitter. Again, this does not reflect the way we think about authority. Real authorities aren’t those that simply regurgitate others’ ideas – they are those that form the debate in the first place.

3) The Top 5 benchmark topics for any Twitter user are published. These are a nonsense. Peer Index suggests that Constructing Excellence’s top five Twitter topics are sustainability, architecture and loudspeakers. Yes, seriously, loudspeakers. We’ve never once tweeted on that topic. At no point does it suggest that our top topics should include the built environment or construction or BIM or collaborative working or any of the other significant issues that we comment on. Shouldn’t users be able to define their own top topics?

So, as stated above, while we commend the intention behind the TCN Top 100, the delivery has been so flawed that it renders the results meaningless. This may seem trivial but for an organisation which trades on authority and knowledge it could be perceived as quite damaging.

Who are the tweeters that most influence the built environment sector? Here are five I would urge you to follow:
Grant Shapps, Minister of State for Housing and Local Government (@grantshapps)
UK Green Building Council (@ukgbc)
Graham Watts, Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council (@CICCEO)
Noble Francis, Economics Director of the Construction Products Association (@NobleFrancis)
Federation of Master Builders (@fmbuilders)

So, follow those people. And I say that with authority.

The March 2011 Constructing Excellence study tour to Japan (by Don Ward)

March 14th, 2011 | Author: Don Ward

All members of our Japan study tour are safely back in the UK. The last three days of the Japan study tour were extraordinary, and of course the full horror is still unfurling of the impact of the tsunami including on the nuclear power station at Fukushima. Events and emotions for us went something like this:

We finished our study tour at lunchtime on the Friday. The week had included visits up north to nuclear power stations under construction as well as meetings in Tokyo with many of the big contractors – including a fascinating visit to Shimizu’s research institute to see their latest earthquake-resistant buildings, very impressive. We had the afternoon off to see some sights or buy presents, and the party split up into smaller groups.

At 2.56, I was in my hotel room, with the TV on to enable an internet connection. A blaring sound came out of the TV and a red notice appeared on the screen, in Japanese. This awful sound is seared on my mind for ever more – it is the earthquake warning, and it comes about 30 seconds in advance of every earthquake of any size….. At first, it was terrifying - the 6th strongest earthquake ever and Japan’s biggest, 800 times more powerful than the Christchurch one - I was on the 10th floor of our hotel and it was like being on a small boat in mountainous seas, I eventually ran down the fire escape and got out to the street to watch the buildings swaying by 15 feet or more. The quake lasted some 7 minutes. It transpires that the island of Japan moved by 6 feet…???!!!! Elsewhere, one of our group saw cars lifted off the ground, and Jenefer from Balfour Beatty Vinci had the wit to film a temple shaking. People went back inside after half an hour or so, and I collected some stuff from my room, but the next hour saw six ‘after-shocks’ all stronger than Christchurch, so it was no fun at all and I soon went back outside. At last I found one of our tour party, and we went for a coffee and then to the hotel bar.

Next it was blitz-like, as we regrouped. Half found our way to the hotel bar within 1-2 hours, but the others had to hike 10 miles or more via the British embassy for a recovery halt. Others had been in meetings downtown, 3 of them even carried on with a meeting (?!) and so found themselves under tables during aftershocks. We began to think about a recovery plan as Tokyo became gridlocked and all planes, trains and buses ceased to run. We had been due to fly home the next morning, but it soon became apparent that all flights were cancelled or delayed. Black humour pervaded.

Then there was the horror and shock as we watched the impact of the tsunami on Japan’s eastern coast via the gripping live news coverage live on TV in the hotel bar, for many hours. This shock continues as we see more and more of the coverage now we are back in the UK.

Next it was impressive as we watched Tokyo stoically return to business as usual. Many office workers had not been able to get home so had slept in their offices. We saw that the city was virtually unscathed by such a huge tremor and the 200 after-shocks over the next 2 days, which continued to un-nerve many of us. Some of us decided to stay on the ground floor, and we set up a camp. Some went upstairs to sleep at one point, but then another big quake at 4am brought 7 of us back down to the ground floor and there we stayed until the morning.

The next morning the gridlock eased and the airports re-opened, so many of our party decided to head for the airport. Information about flight times was available, but unclear, and the journey for many was grim, 8 hours in a taxi and then 24 hours on the floor at the airport. Others were luckier, leaving it later and getting to the airport in normal time. Still little evidence of any damage in Tokyo – except a bent mast on the main TV tower! Finally, relief as the plane took off and the joy of returning to solid land which doesn’t rock or shudder under your feet every few minutes. But ultimately deeply worrying, as the nuclear power station story unfurled – not a station we had visited when in the same region 3 days earlier, but an incident into which many of our party had huge technical insight but needed our reports via emails and texts of the live TV coverage to understand it.

Fingers crossed for our new friends and colleagues in Japan, they are such a kind and considerate population and do not deserve this.