The continued boom in London Docklands means the area is attracting construction staff as well as City suits. Robert Smith of Hays Montrose reports
Following the huge commercial and corporate development of the past decade, London Docklands has now entered its second phase. Residential projects have kicked off in a big way, morphing the once-industrial wasteland into a coveted close-to-work location for bankers, lawyers and accountants. Luxury apartments are a goldmine for contractors, and consultants of all types are being brought in to work on them. Site managers, M&E consultants and fit-out specialists with large-scale development experience can all reap the rewards of London's heavily inflated property market.

The most prominent project on Docklands' South Quay is residential high-rise Discovery Dock West. Construction, which is being run by Laing O'Rourke, started in September 2003. The luxury apartments are expected to cost £50m to build, and are scheduled to complete in April 2006. Projects such as this are almost a sure thing for developers, considering their proximity to the City and Docklands' financial district. Many of the 150 available apartments in Discovery Dock West were sold in the early stages of the development.

Louis Newton, of Hays Montrose Docklands, says it is extremely difficult to find residential site managers with large-project experience locally. "Buildings of more than eight storeys have more stringent regulations, so ideally site managers need some high-rise experience – but unfortunately London doesn't really do skyscrapers. Most buildings of more than six storeys were built in the 60s, so many of those with the right experience are now retired," explains Newton. "On the surveying side, it is possible to transfer commercial high-rise skills, but when it gets to fit-out stage they need luxury finishing experience. People with high-rise and luxury residential skills are almost an extinct species, and senior valuations consultants with the right background are also impossible to find."

Another huge project under way in the area is BP1, Barclays Bank's international headquarters next to Canary Wharf. The 35-floor office development run by FM consultant Johnson Controls is due to finish in 2005. Worth about £40m, various fit-out contractors are being sought. There are between 5000 and 6000 people working on BP1, with engineers, shift leaders, shift engineers and handymen – temporary and permanent – in high demand.

Ballymore is also due to start a 15-storey office development in South Quay next year, situated close to the Britannia International hotel, which is estimated to be worth about £20-30m.

There's a growing trend among contractors to hire South Africans, Australians and New Zealanders on high-rise projects because of the similar way jobs are structured in their countries. Newton says it's hard to find a British site manager with experience on both the commercial construction and production sides – this is more common in Antipodean countries.

The next logical step for Docklands is more commercial and retail development. A number of popular chain restaurants, bars and high street stores have already opened in Canary Wharf, with more set to follow. Finishing foremen are the next group expected to benefit from local skills shortages – developments such as Discovery Dock West will certainly need people to ensure the quality is up to very high standards. But as far as the future of Docklands is concerned, it seems firmly within the Field of Dreams category: "If we build it, they will come."

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