It’s 3 o’clock on a blustery afternoon in Cardiff. After a civilised lunch by the bay with most of the Welsh construction community, Building has persuaded a select few guests to slip off to a local pub for a quiet chat.
The bookish, contemplative atmosphere is destroyed seconds before we reach the Terra Nova however. Through the window of a nearby restaurant, the delegation is confronted by an office party in full swing, at which an inebriated woman is performing an intimate act on an inflatable male doll, much to the amusement of her colleagues – and our group.
“They don’t make them like that any more,” says Jane, wistfully. It is unclear whether the inflatable or the office party is the object of her nostalgia, but before anyone can find out, we reach the pub. Drinks acquired, the conversation turns to the safer topic of environment-friendly housing.
“One of the wealthy banking people in Cardiff is building a new house and wanted it to be green,” says Howard. “It’s costing him twice as much, but he’s determined to make it sustainable. The only thing is, it is 11,000ft2. It can be as sustainable as he likes, but at the end of the day he’s still got to heat it. He should’ve had a cabin.”
Ken is also sceptical about current measures of sustainability. “Isn’t the best way to build a sustainable house at the moment to put one next to a train station, motorway and some bike sheds?” “And let your unemployed neighbours build it,” adds John.
At the mention of neighbours, talk turns to the lack of interest in the Welsh market exhibited by English contractors.
“It’s interesting that some bother with us and some don’t,” says Ken.
“Maybe there’s not enough to keep them here,” ventures John.
“But there are lots of £10m-plus projects” argues Ken, before he is silenced by John. “Don’t tell them!”
Jane at first seems more welcoming – “They can do well if they accept our working culture”
– before adding: “They shouldn’t just rape us and go.” Clearly, her mind is still on the inflatable.
Nick agrees. “The worst part of contractors entering any market is when they bounce in and out, and don’t commit. I know a few who have done that in Wales.”
The resurgence of the Welsh language, demonstrated by the dual-language signs all over the city, is apparently no barrier to English people working in Wales, whatever the popular myth.
None of the present guests speak the language, even though all except one are Welsh. “As an individual, it might give you an advantage, especially in the civil service,” says Nick. “But nobody would procure construction contracts in Welsh.”
Chosen watering hole: The Terra Nova, Cardiff
Ambience: Dark, labyrinthine waterside bar
Topic: Sex dolls, eco-housing and the absence of foreign hordes
Drinks bought: four bottles of Peroni, two pints of San Miguel, one white wine spritzer, one glass of red wine and a pint of Brains
Ken Haines, chairman, Fifehead
John Worrall, group managing director, Stradform
Michelle Davies, business development manager, Stradform
Howard Wainwright, director, Powell Dobson Architects
Jane Boyes, Boyes Rees Architects
Nick Soady, RPA
Sarah Richardson, Building magazine