Construction sites to stay open despite PM announcing nationwide lockdown

A building site in Durham.

Mixed messages and confusion over whether construction sites will stay open persist following the prime minister’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown yesterday. 

Some politicians have said that the prime minister’s lockdown order should apply to construction sites while the official advice is that sites can remain open as long as the government’s social distancing rules are observed.

The latest Covid-19 Update (24 March 2020), prepared on behalf of the UK construction sector to brief companies and individuals on the ongoing repercussions of the coronavirus for the industry, quotes a Construction Leadership Council (CLC) statement saying: “We are in exceptional circumstances and are doing our utmost to keep construction sites operational wherever it is practical and safe to do so. Whilst the guidance from Public Health England may change in future, for the time being construction sites of any size that are operating during the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic need to ensure they are protecting their workforce and minimising the risk of spread of infection”.

Meanwhile, Construction Industry Council chief executive Graham Watts tweeted last night that “Officials are working to secure much needed clarity about the position of construction sites” saying that he thought that “the  industry will come to work tomorrow, to prepare to shut down works safely, whilst awaiting further information.” Watts said that he thought that the advice would be for sites to do “whatever is necessary to leave works in a state that can be safely left for some while”.

CLC chair Andy Mitchell said that his organisation had published Site Operating Procedures to assist firms in implementing the government’s social distancing recommendations. “I would strongly recommend that these procedures are implemented by every operational construction site, with the aim of us having a standard approach across the industry that all firms and workers can adopt,” he said.

Meanwhile, this morning, reports are coming in from around the country of sites working as normal despite the PM’s lockdown, which according to Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, did not apply to construction sites anyway. Offering advice to the housing, construction and building maintenance industries, Jenrick said: “If you can work from home, do so. If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.”

Jenrick’s advice was backed up unequivocally by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove speaking on BBC Breakfast this morning when he said that “Construction should continue on site. I think it is important that when we have construction work that can be done safely in the open air it can continue.”

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