As the economic world disappears down the rabbit hole, we find ourselves in a strange land where no email is quite as it seems, consultants befriend barn owls and masked builders roam the Orient

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It’s not like Ucatt to flip-flop on issues concerning the construction industry, but emails from the union last week showed an unusually indecisive streak. At 4.05pm on Thursday a stern message arrived proclaiming “disappointment” at a government consultation into asbestos-related illnesses. But lo and behold, at 4.50pm a “corrected” version of the same email arrived, calling the consultation “a step forward”. What changed in that 45 minutes to mollify the union’s hardline stance? It couldn’t be that Ucatt’s famed firebrand Alan Ritchie is going soft on us, could it?

It’s in the air

Any publicist worth his salt can spot a marketing break a mile off, and there’s no greater promoter in the construction industry than Gleeds boss Richard Steer. Following on from quirky marketing stunts like Gleeds TV and Gleeds’ green Christmas party, Steer’s team is taking opportunism to new levels on its group trip to Beijing this summer. While Chinese officials frantically try to clear pollution away from the capital in order to meet Olympic air quality standards, the consultant is planning a range of bespoke Gleeds facemasks. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.

Animal magic

A heart-warming tale arrived in my inbox this week from consultant Malcolm Hollis. For the team’s away day, the firm’s 90 staff upgraded a wildlife park in Broxbourne. Workers helped renovate enclosures for red foxes, reindeer, barn owls, and white and African lions – all for charity. Ahhh. What with Norman Foster designing an elephant house and construction managing directors living with monkeys (Hansoms passim), has the industry gone animal crackers? I know we’re supposed to be in a bear market, but this is getting ridiculous.

It’s an ill wind …

I fear that a recent press release from estate agent Cluttons may have done little to improve the image of that most maligned of professions. The missive was intended to highlight the impact of growing home repossession and the subsequent forced sales on the London housing market. Most would imagine the firm would tackle this distressing subject with some sensitivity. Instead Richard Cotton, senior partner, said: “Forced sales are excellent news for the market and will break the current deadlock between buyers and sellers.” Hurrah. Three cheers for home repossession. The agency did later send a revised statement out, but, alas, I think the damage was done.

School reunion

More heart-warming news, this time from Scotland. Clark Construction, which has won a contract to rebuild a high school in Renfrewshire, has appointed former pupil Iain Blair to lead the project. Blair’s enthusiasm to work on the project apparently stems from his desire to retrieve a football he kicked onto the roof of the gym 40 years ago. I will be hoping for a photo infused with Proustian warmth of tearful man reunited with ball to help cheer us all up in these gloomy times.

Picture-perfect policy

Boris Johnson gave his first planning and development-themed press conference as London mayor this week.

The general consensus was that the mop-headed one may not be clued up on the detail but that his press conferences are likely to be even more entertaining than his predecessor’s. The mayor’s comments about the Greater London Authority’s 100 Public Spaces campaign have already been reported, but perhaps column inches ought also to be given to his delightful introduction: “Er, yes well, I, of course, love public spaces, the way they look on the page. I think those pictures with the butterflies and trees superimposed are actually lovely, and the little people wandering around. They’re great. So I’m in favour.” The other thing we learned: he’s a big fan of the Ben Stiller comedy Dodgeball. The impact of this on planning policy is as yet unclear.