This week’s news is dominated by the crisis in Japan. We also look at the OFT fines saga, what the Budget might bring and how underbidding is affecting the industry

As Building went to press this week, the scale of the disaster and loss of life caused by the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan was just beginning to emerge, but the full implications were still unclear. What we know, however, is that alongside a coordinated humanitarian aid effort, international companies have activated contingency plans and scrambled staff out of Tokyo while they begin to understand the disaster’s impact on businesses, clients and the economy in the region and beyond.

It is clear that there will be widespread disruption to projects in Japan, and, given the escalating situation in Fukushima City, that a global debate around the issue of the safety and designs of new and existing nuclear power stations is to rage on for many weeks. The UK government, European Union and US Homeland Security department have already ordered stress tests of existing nuclear stock. Germany is the first country to put nuclear projects on hold for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, the necessity to future-proof buildings against natural disasters will take centre stage along with the companies with the specialist engineering and design expertise to deliver solutions. Take Arup, for example, a company that has built up a reputation for expertise in designing earthquake and terror-proof, high-rise buildings in Asia and beyond. In the wake of this quake its engineers are quietly ecstatic that their buildings stood the test against an earthquake of such magnitude.

But the power of Mother Nature has taken everyone by surprise – and the nuclear dynamic has added another fear factor. In the same way that 9/11 turned talk about the terror-proofing of buildings into real action within design briefs, this catastrophe is likely to spur governments and clients into crisis planning for tsunamis and making the issue of flood-proofing cities a priority again.

At the heart of the debate are contentious issues such as rising design and build costs, the need for early warning systems and calls for more state investment in sea defences. But also expect a new, real focus on how such crisis and mitigation planning can be factored into the long-term design and planning of infrastructure and communities everywhere.          

… And much, much more

Also in Building this week: a full analysis of the Office for Fair Trading’s embarrassment over cover pricing fines and David Matthews’ investigation into the underbidding of contracts, an issue that has emerged as the number one headache for contractors across the UK. Also we have predictions for next week’s Budget, and Ike Ijeh’s tour of West Ham United’s plans for the conversion of the Olympic stadium. I have to confess to be less than impartial on this one – it’s fantastic to beat Tottenham at almost anything, whether it is football, tiddlywinks or Olympic stadium bidding – but let’s hope that with the right design solution the stadium will be world class and fit for the future.

Tom Broughton, brand director