We’ve known for some time now that 2008 is unlikely to be as golden a year as 2007.

But there’s no escaping the fact that confidence is spread a little more thinly than it was a month or two ago. Back in September, when the credit crunch broke, housebuilders shrugged it off. This week Mark Clare, chief executive of Barratt, revealed that sales of new homes have fallen by 14% since the summer. Then there’s the 6% drop in housing starts and a looming slump in the buy-to-let market, so it’s not surprising that the gloom is gathering. The Construction Products Association looks likely to downgrade its 1.8% growth predictions for 2008, and any shares with the remotest connection with housebuilding are on the slide.

All that may seem quite unreal to contractors in the commercial property sector, who are still scrabbling to order before the prices are hiked again. But it’s just as dangerous to think we’re immune from the black cloud over the property world. According to agent CBRE, job cuts in banking will mean that, by next year, 15% of space in the City will be unlet. We’ve had doubts about the Shard for a while, but other schemes, such as the Walkie-Talkie, are looking more vulnerable. The sites are being cleared but will the piling contractors move in? Concerns are bound to be exacerbated by the turmoil at Land Securities, which procures more than £1bn of construction work a year. Meanwhile, the retail sector has 2 million m2 of space due to finish next year, but can we be sure that schemes due for completion in 2011 will start?

Let’s get one thing straight. We don’t want to talk ourselves into a recession: public spending, infrastructure and the Olympics are all reinforcing the market, as is high employment. But when housing falters, its impact is felt far and wide. The traditional spring rush will tell us how much trouble we’re in … and here an early cut in interest rates, as called for by Clare, would steady all our nerves.

Denise Chevin, editor

Low carb construction

HM Prison Service has long been aware that a man with a stomach full of starch is less of a problem to control than he might be otherwise, and the diet reflects that. Cynics may suspect that much the same is true of schools. But it’s one thing to nod off in double maths, quite another to do it while you’re directing a tower crane. On the other hand, anyone working outside on a site in winter needs to take on at least 4,000 calories a day. In theory, the problem can be solved by rebalancing the protein-carbohydrate mix in our canteens; in practice it’ll need a great deal of culinary skill to win over the workers. Our dietary preferences are deeply ingrained in all of us. So we’re launching our Nouvelle Canteen competition to locate the sites that serve the best food in the best way. All you have to do is nominate your favourite venue and our expert panel will drop in for lunch …