Opinion

Editorial: October 2011

12 October 2011

Denise Chevin, Acting Editor, CM

Pregnancy: it’s the mother of all issues

So can you really have it all? It’s a question a number of women may have been asking themselves of late in the wake of Sarah Jessica Parker’s latest flick, I don’t know how she does it, a bitter sweet comedy portraying the perils of juggling family life with a high-powered career.

Trying to cope with a macho culture and long working hours while making an occasional appearance in the playground must particularly strike a chord with women in construction. The few that get that far, that is. The evidence there is suggests that many just give up and change career when they become parents.

For, as we report in our feature on pages 12-16, combining the two is challenging, particularly if you work on site, where 12-hour shifts are nothing out of the ordinary.

There are women who are making it work. Helen Nemeth and Michelle Levi for two, thanks to some more forward-thinking employers and sheer determination. But as they note themselves, what they do is certainly still a rarity. As Helen says: ”I am not the norm in terms of flexible working and this kind of attitude needs to change to retain women on site.”

Even before women even go on maternity leave the industry attitude seems to be one of apoplexy as companies try to fathom out what to do with a pregnant woman on site. Then there’s the whole issue of maternity benefits, where again the industry norm seems totally out of kilter with other sectors.

Very little research has been done into the whole area of what benefits companies pay, but from those dozen or so contacted for this article, to be paid anymore than the statutory maternity pay is again rare even for our flagship companies.

When you compare this with the rest of industry it looks as if we’re stuck in the 1980s doesn’t it? According to research carried out by the Incomes Data Services, 74% of UK companies provide more than the statutory maternity pay requirement.

No doubt there will be many people in the industry who would dismiss such a notion of increasing maternity pay as ridiculous, and totally unaffordable in this present climate. But there’s never a right time. Some will be exactly the same people who say we need more women in the industry. Sadly, no one is making this connection. “Women”, “maternity” and “parenthood” have been oddly absent in the same sentence.

Compare construction’s record with Jaguar Land Rover, where women get a full year’s paid maternity leave. The package was introduced to help female staff and to attract more women to the company. “We’re an engineering-based organisation, and professional women are a scarce resource. Since they introduced these benefits 99% of women who go off to have a baby come back,” its HR director told The Guardian.

As it is, life could well move on a bit, as new fathers opt to take off 26 weeks to look after their child. Stranger things have happened. But as far as women are concerned we have a choice in this industry. If we want more women running our sites, heading up regional offices, or taking a seat in the boardroom, then the issue of maternity benefits and more flexible working has to be addressed. Of course, we can say we’re a special case and carry on as it’s always been. Just stop paying lip service.

Denise Chevin | Editor, CM

Vox pop

What do you think of government attempts to change planning policy?

Keith Hearn, Head of West End planning, CB Richard Ellis

The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) has a lot to commend it. It distills reams of government thinking into little over 50 pages that is simpler and easier to read than previous planning policy documents. This should help to engage more people in the planning process.

Fears that the presumption in favour of sustainable development could lead to concreting of the countryside are unfounded. The government is listening and likely amendments to consultation responses should create a balanced document.

Ian Abley, Director, Audacity.org

The Telegraph’s “Hands Off Our Land” campaign forged an anti-development alliance of urban and rural complainers, united in their opposition to the NPPF. They insist the NPPF is too kind to would-be housebuilders and that in addition to protecting every scrap of Green Belt, all sorts of other obstacles should be put in the way of the construction industry.

Britain’s economy needs growth, but not, it seems, in building new buildings. NPPF author Eric Pickles will wobble and lie down for the complainers, and the NPPF was never promising a building boom.

Stewart Baseley, Executive chairman, Home Builders Federation

We need a planning system that will deliver enough land, in the right places, to provide the number of homes the country needs. Last year, we built the fewest number of homes since 1923, when we are faced with an acute housing crisis. Planning consents are about half the necessary level. The proposals put forward in the NPPF are sensible and balance the social, economic and environmental impacts of development. The government needs to stand firm and implement its proposals asap. We cannot afford the social and economic implications of delay.

Shaun Spiers, Chief executive, Campaign to Protect Rural England

The government’s plans are skewed towards economic, at the expense of environmental and social, development. We all want a strong economy, but we also need a healthy environment. The proposed reforms will be environmentally destructive without doing anything for long-term growth.

The government should start with a clear definition of sustainable development; a return to the brownfield-first policy that has been successful since 1995; and a recognition of the intrinsic value of the “ordinary” aspect of our unprotected countryside.

Colin Haylock, Senior vice president and chairman of the Board of Trustees, RTPI

Much debate revolves around a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” which we think needs to be clarified. Local plans — the policies that councils use to guide their decisions on planning applications — remain key, but must fit in with the policy in the national framework. If there isn’t a local plan then planning applications will be approved if they match the rules outlined in the NPPF. This is why the wording of the document is so important, as are the transitional arrangements.

Feedback

Why you should be using mediation; the problem with our sustainability agenda; and “shoebox homes”

Don’t litigate, mediate

Michael Dawson FRICS, MCIOB

The article “Recession boosts litigation” recently published on your website highlights the fact that the Technology & Construction Court is reporting a 25% increase in cases due to “cash flow problems and contractors looking to cover for the taking on [of] jobs at suicidal bids”.

Any contractors experiencing cash flow problems in particular would be well advised to stay clear of long-winded and excessively costly litigation. As a practising mediator, my advice would be to take advantage of the speed, economy and flexibility of settlements which only mediation can provide.

In addition, mediation is informal, non-adversarial, and enables the parties to retain control of the dispute. What’s more, in litigation only one party wins and the other losing party invariably has to pay the winning side’s costs, which often exceed the value of the original dispute.

It should also be borne in mind that even in the low percentage of claims which do not settle at mediation, the parties are still able to have the dispute resolved entirely by litigation or to litigate only those points of claim on which they were unable to agree during the mediation.

Too many sustainability cooks

Steve Townsend MCIOB

I totally agree with many of the points raised in your article “Taking the green gremlins in hand” (CM, September). I have been involved with a new company led by experienced directors with all the right credentials in terms of “construction” expertise. We have hit the wall in terms of real integrated knowledge and a quango-based funding methodology.

Unfortunately we have the usual constraints outlined in the article. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

The article suggests that we are playing with the subject hoping it will sort it self out. I see the problem being simplified into six points:

 

 

 The following comments are from our website responding to the story (web 16 September) about the furore when the RIBA criticised housebuilders for building “shameful shoebox homes”.

I live in a relatively new house and agree whole-heartedly with the RIBA. Most modern houses have no character and are far too small. The roof space, which could be used to create extra living space, is wasted by the use of trussed rafters. However, town planners are as much to blame for allowing such poorly designed property and estates to be built.

Tom Metcalfe

You can always build your own home! It can be cheaper and you can then have as much space as you can afford.

Paul McGrath

On the story “Contractors to get Whitehall mentors” (CM September)

Excellent innovation, let’s hope it works.

Godwin Teye Kwablah

Surely the answer is to employ qualified people at source. Not introduce more red tape to an already overloaded system.

Eddie Monk

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