Celebrities are searching for quick-thinking, tight-lipped site managers, but they aren't the only clients hiring in London. Robert Smith of Hays Montrose reports

Good people are harder than ever to find, especially when you need individuals with high-end experience who can deliver a quick high-quality turnaround with more discretion than a royal courtier. Elton John, Madonna and Elaine Paige are just some of the celebrities refurbishing their new pads in west London with building costs from £6-12m, and site managers to fill these exclusive positions in high-spec residential projects are in the highest demand. "We've registered so many roles at the high end of the market recently, filling them in time is a major problem," says Hays Montrose consultant Louis Newton.
Professionals with luxury residential experience are a rare commodity, commanding some of the best wages in the industry. They need experience of working on high-value properties, and preferably some time spent developing heritage buildings. A site manager can expect to earn a package in excess of £40,000, depending on experience. This will typically include a car allowance, and possibly performance bonuses.
"Apartment and home refurbishments tend to be fast-tracked because the pressure is on to make them habitable as soon as possible. Delays can be expensive and sometimes detrimental to contractors' profit margins, because they can be penalised for not getting jobs done on time," explains Newton.
Meanwhile, the City also offers scope to construction professionals. "The trend is pointing towards a focus on interiors, with lots of our clients taking on this kind of work. Heritage buildings are being used for residential, commercial and retail schemes," says Newton.
One of the largest current refurbishments is Lion Plaza in the heart of the City. Run by Capital Projects Consultancy, the mixed-use development boasts Gucci, Paul Smith and other luxury retailers as tenants, and is set to provide 17,100 m² of office space and retail on the ground floor, and a health club in the basement. The design involves merging existing buildings, some of which are listed, with newer elements. This approach found favour with English Heritage and City of London planners and was initially due for completion in summer 2003. However, delays are expected to stretch the project to a late 2004 finish date.
With the entire scheme worth more than £180m, construction professionals of all sorts are still needed to complete the fit-out. In highest demand are QSs and temporary site managers, as there are a number of microprojects run by various firms within the overall development.
Although there's no shortage of work in the City, many contractors and consultants have found themselves waiting for refurbishment projects to begin. This is mainly due to extended delays with planning permission, but can also happen when a project is retendered.
The biggest problem is making sure the people originally secured to work on the refurbishments are still available when the project finally goes ahead. "Lots of them are being pushed back," says Newton. "People are being taken on but some projects are delayed by a lengthy planning permission or retendering situation. It makes it difficult to get the right staff in and set a start date, leaving them with work gaps and the potential of being either over- or understaffed. For candidates, this is generally okay as they can find other jobs soon enough, but it's not good enough for employers, and costs them a lot."
Have you worked for a celebrity, or left a project because of a planning delay? Email buildingcareers@cmpinformation.com