That's the view of one North-west consultant, but is the picture the same across the country? Building toured the UK to find out …

Bristol, the powerhouse of the South-west, has spent the past 30 years or so wishing someone would do something about the huge, brutalist Broadmead development in the centre of town. Now Hammerson and Land Securities have agreed to work together on an estimated £300m redevelopment. Originally, they had submitted separate applications for the project.

As that scheme awaits planning permission, architects in the South-west are welcoming the surge of interest from housebuilders and housebuyers in inner-city living. Bath-based architect Stubbs Rich, for example, has schemes on the go in Bath, Plymouth and Bristol. One of the largest residential schemes in Bristol is the £24m Alec French-designed Broadquay development for Beaufort. HBG and Sir Robert McAlpine are currently battling for the contract to build the city-centre project.

Workloads across the industry are good. The Bristol office of architect Fitzroy Robinson has £50m worth of work on its books – mostly good quality office developments in Bristol. The drawback, of course, is that the labour market is tightening. Wet trades are being absorbed by housing projects and there is a great shortage of professional quantity surveyors. Professional salaries are consequently high. According to Hays Montrose, one project manager’s job was filled for £40 000.

Major projects

  • £300m Broadmead redevelopment by Hammerson and Land Securities

  • Edward Cullinan Architects is preparing a new masterplan for the £100m Bristol Harbourside scheme for Crest Nicholson

Graduate project manager: £28 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £22 000

Skills in short supply: Project managers and wet trades


Big regeneration schemes are the order of the day in the North-east. In Middlesbrough, English Partnerships has joined forces with regional development agency One North East and Middlesbrough council to produce a masterplan for Middlehaven Dock. Work has started to decontaminate the site. Once completed, towards the end of 2001, 13 ha will be released for a mix of commercial and leisure uses, as well as more than 1000 homes. The scheme has outline planning permission.

In Sunderland, a 15-year programme to regenerate the former coalfield and shipyard areas along the south bank of the River Wear has been announced. This will include a mixed business and residential quarter with more than 1000 homes.

Bigger than both of these schemes is the £600m Newcastle Great Park, a £600m mix of business park and residential development. Beazer and Bryant are teaming up for the housing component.

There is, however, an across-the-board shortage of consultants. According to recruitment consultant FTR Associates, “many experienced candidates leave the region to earn higher salaries in the South, and there’s a lack of young people choosing to enter the industry”.

Major projects

  • Newcastle Great Park: £600m business park and homes

  • Durham conference centre and theatre: £28m millennium project

  • Stockton town-centre redevelopment by HBG and Swan Hill Developments. This includes a £45m retail centre

Graduate project manager: £16 000-18 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £24 000

Skills in short supply: Site managers and engineers, building services engineers and experienced surveyors


The fate of the crisis-hit Wales Millennium Centre is the biggest topic of conversation in Cardiff. Contractor Amec withdrew from the opera house in the summer and the cost has spiralled out of control. The latest development was Cardiff County Council’s decision last week to step in and buy the project’s site to stop landowner Grosvenor Waterside putting it on the open market.

Despite these setbacks on such a major scheme, local firms are cheered by the steady stream of medium-sized projects. Retail work, business parks and education projects are feeding the principality’s contractors and consultants. As in the South-west, inner-city living is becoming chic, and more high-class residential schemes similar to Westbury’s recently announced apartments on Cardiff Bay are expected to be put in train as people move in from the suburbs.

Meanwhile, two leisure schemes are making progress. The £10m Austin-Smith:Lord-designed Newport Arts & Leisure Centre has just got planning permission, and the massive £200m Sports Village in Cardiff is creeping slowly towards a starting point. Reclamation work on the site is expected to start next year.

Major projects

  • The Richard Rogers Partnership-designed National Assembly for Wales starts on site early next year

  • The £10m Newport Arts Centre has just received planning permission. Austin-Smith:Lord’s scheme includes a 500-seat theatre, dance studio, recording studio, café and art gallery

  • The £200m Sports Village in Cardiff by Capital and Regional and HBG

When we meet now, we ask when the bubble will burst, whether it be the fuel crisis or the weak euro

Stephen Bugg, Regional Managing Partner, Davis Langdon & Everest

Graduate project manager: £28 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £28 000

Skills shortages: Wet trades and project managers


The Scottish market is in optimistic mood and Edinburgh is enjoying a boom. A recent survey by trade organisation Scottish Building found that 75% of firms expect output to increase in the next 12 months, compared with the UK average of 45%.

However, areas outside Edinburgh are reporting skills shortages as bricklayers and joiners are sucked into the capital. The Lothians, Fife, Perth and District and the Borders are all finding it difficult to retain skilled labour, according to Scottish Building. The Edinburgh office of recruitment consultant Hays Montrose reports strong demand for foremen, agents and engineers.

Glasgow council, the Construction Industry Training Board, UCATT and construction firms have teamed up to tackle skills shortages by offering training programmes in preparation for big projects in the city, including clearing the £1.6bn repairs backlog on social housing and a £220m private finance initiative project to build 29 schools.

Major projects

  • Glasgow Science Centre: £75m flagship lottery project on the Clyde

  • Ocean Terminal: £100m shopping centre and cruise liner terminal at Leith

  • Scottish parliament, Edinburgh: latest estimate £195m and counting

Graduate project manager: £17 500-18 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £14 000-16 500

Skills in short supply: Bricklayers and joiners

Oxford and the Home Counties

The signs are good in Oxford and the Home Counties. Contract books are full but prices are still competitive. This season has been particularly buoyant for cities such as Oxford, where contractors have been pushing to complete work for the academic year.

The only hint of a cloud is over the recruitment market. Some firms have been hit by headhunters and are having to offer bonus schemes to keep hold of good staff. But others are benefiting from London fall-out: traditionally, many skilled workers in the region have commuted to the capital. However, London’s pulling power seems to be waning and local firms are picking up those wanting to work closer to home. At Leadbitter Construction, business development manager David Notley says: “Our employment problems are usually caused by large housing projects stealing all the bricklayers. Thankfully, at the moment housing developments in Oxford are generally on a much smaller scale.”

Project books remain full as a result of a healthy number of university and healthcare contracts. David Morley Associates, together with other local companies, has been working for the past year on a hall of residence for Oriel College, Oxford. The building, in Rectory Road, has 62 bedrooms, two of which are designed for disabled students, with an annexe that includes a squash court and fitness suite.

Arguably the region’s most glamorous scheme is Ridge and Partners’ home for the Jaguar/Cosworth motor sports team at Silverstone.

Major projects

  • £5-15m for Oxford healthcare projects from relocation of John Radcliffe hospital

  • £80m Jaguar/Cosworth facility at Silverstone at design phase

  • £50m+ work on Westgate Shopping Centre, Oxford

Graduate project manager: £18 000-19 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £23 000-24 000

Skills in short supply: Quantity surveyors

Northern Ireland

No one familiar with the history of Northern Ireland over the past three decades could fail to appreciate the effect of the ceasefire. The province has been transformed from an area where the principal construction client was the government to one where the private sector drives the industry. And the problems facing its construction community are the same ones troubling firms across the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland: skill shortages and spiralling wages.

Bricklayers and plasterers are in short supply as the housebuilding boom continues. But major contractors report shortages in areas such as management as work continues to increase. This is seen as especially worrying in Northern Ireland, which has traditionally trained a large section of its workforce and still produces many construction graduates from its two universities. Firms and individuals are also cashing in on the unprecedented surge of work in the Irish Republic, and Northern Ireland Construction Employers Federation chief Tony Doran says the all-Ireland construction market is outstripping labour supply.

We don’t have too many complaints. Having survived the early 1990s, I plan never to complain about anything any more

Chris Liddle, Chairman, HLM Architects

The news that Laing is to close its Northern Ireland office, which it kept open throughout the dark years, next year surprised many, but no one here believes it is a reflection of future work.

John Hume, leader of Northern Ireland’s Social Democrat and Labour Party, recently told Building that there are plans to transform the Foyle River Valley in Derry into Northern Ireland’s silicon valley by attracting bluechip IT companies into the region.

In addition, there is the £200m mixed-use redevelopment of Victoria Square in Belfast by Dutch company MDC and Building Design Partnership’s Belfast office, which looks set to go ahead next year. At the same time, ambitious plans to expand the Castle Court retail centre in Belfast, worth an estimated £100m-plus, are expected to be submitted for approval.

Major projects

  • Victoria Square: £200m mixed-use redevelopment in Belfast

  • Castle Court: Expansion of Belfast retail centre

  • Bridge End Sirocco: Residential and business park, Belfast

Graduate project manager: £16 000-18 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £16 000-18 000

Skills in short supply: Bricklayers. “Not for love or money,” said one disgruntled housebuilder


With more than £700m of Objective One European funding promised to the centre of Sheffield, it is not surprising that there is a fair degree of confidence in the region. Add to that the continuing strength of the construction market in Leeds, where flats are still booming and the demand for offices far outstrips supply, and you have an upbeat picture.

But firms are raising concern about skills shortages across the professions, particularly architecture. One architect says a national rival is ferrying work down to its southern offices, such is the lack of local talent. “It used to be the other way round,” he says.

All eyes are focused on the masterplan being put together by US architect Koetter Kim for the centre of Sheffield. This is expected to lay plans for a technology park between the train station and the main city centre and offers the prospect for more sites to be redeveloped.

Major schools projects are also springing up in the region – new programmes include rebuilding projects in Bradford and Sheffield.

Major projects

  • Sheffield city-centre masterplan, due to be produced by architect

    Koetter Kim at the end of the year

  • Clarence Dock, Leeds: £100m mixed-use development set for completion in 2003

  • Bradford schools building programme: £171m project involving building work on 133 schools

Graduate project manager: £16 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £22 000

Skills in short supply: Bricklayers, engineers and architects


The huge amount of work in the region is draining local resources. The £400m Bull Ring development, set for completion in 2003, and the 10-year West Coast Main Line rail project are major pulls on the regional skills base. A lack of good young QSs is a particular problem, many in the Midlands point out.

Despite these recruitment troubles, the region’s prospects remain buoyant. The future focus in Birmingham is now the east side of the city centre, currently the subject of a masterplan by architect HOK. This is expected to lead to a swath of new developments. Speculation has it that there are new towers planned next to the £440m Arena Central scheme, also designed by HOK. Just outside the city centre at Five Ways, Morrison is building Broadway Plaza, a £70m retail and leisure scheme including a 20-screen cinema on the site of the former Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Development is not confined to Birmingham. South-east of the city, commercial and industrial schemes in the M40 corridor are becoming very lucrative. “Rental levels are not far off from the city centre,” one source said.

Major projects

  • Birmingham: Masterplan for east side of the city centre, being produced by HOK

    There are very few architectural competitions in Scotland. It’s a real issue for young practices

    Paul Clarke, Clarke & Devene Architects

  • Solihull: £120m shopping centre designed by Eric Kuhne

  • Coventry: £100m headquarters for Marconi

Graduate project manager: £19 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £24 000

Skills in short supply: Quantity surveyors


As post-bomb reconstruction work nears completion in Manchester city centre, the industry is looking to east Manchester and the area surrounding the Commonwealth Games’ Sportcity complex to provide regeneration projects over the next two years.

Meanwhile Liverpool, which looked to be on the skids a few years ago, has established its position as a major player. It seems that both cities can now generate enough work to sustain a buoyant market. Manchester is expected to generate about 40% of work in the North-west, but Liverpool is catching up, providing at least 20%. City-centre residential and hotel projects continue to grow apace in both cities, including Salford’s £27m Lowry Hotel.

But such success means the industry is paying the price in people. Quantity surveyors, building surveyors, project managers and engineers are all in short supply. Industry members estimate that as the market continues to grow, the skills shortage will continue for at least 12 months.

Major projects

  • £28.5m Imperial War Museum of the North in Trafford Park, near Manchester, designed by Daniel Libeskind

  • Regeneration of east Manchester, anchored by the £150m Sportcity stadium and plans to complete the M60 ring road around the city

  • £500m regeneration of Paradise Street area in Liverpool city centre

Graduate project manager: £12 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £16 000

Skills in short supply:Quantity surveyors and project managers

East Anglia

The market in East Anglia is “pretty buoyant” and “bubbling along nicely”, according to local firms, although they expect it to tail off within a couple of years.

The concentration of biotechnology and IT firms in Cambridge is fuelling the expansion of science parks around the city, including the 34 ha, £80m Granta Park (by MEPC/The Welding Institute); the £150m Cambourne Science/Business Park (Development Securities); Cambridge Research Park (Slough Estates), and the Trinity and Peterhouse College Science Parks.

Cambridge University Estate is creating its own mini-boom, with £350m of schemes in development. These include a £9m research centre for Microsoft, a £15m computer lab, £45m of new faculty buildings on Sidgwick Avenue, a £32m Institute of Cancer Research at the Addenbrookes Hospital site, a £30m second phase of the maths faculty and a £50m refurbishment of the chemistry faculty.

Since the 1999 regional planning guidance, which stated that Cambridgeshire needed a new urban settlement of between 5000 and 10 000 homes, developers have been jostling to propose schemes for sites such as the former Ministry of Defence bases Oakington Barracks and Waterbeach. Construction of the new settlement, which could rise to 20 000 homes, will start by 2005.

In Norwich, projects under way include Gazeley Properties and Railtrack’s £75m Norwich Riverside retail and leisure development, a new £21m private finance initiative operations centre for Norfolk Police and the £60m Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Project – a high-tech library designed by Michael Hopkins and Partners.

Most firms report difficulty in recruiting employees “of the right calibre for a particular job”. The Cambridge University Estate, the region’s biggest client, reports an acute shortage of experienced M&E consultants, which director David Adamson says is hampering its efforts to use whole-life costing and achieve environmental improvements. Almost all consultants say contractors have put in claims for disruption to jobs in the wake of the fuel crisis. Late deliveries of steelwork, for example, caused minor delays.

Major projects

  • Granta Park: £80m science park in Cambridge

  • Cambridge University estate: Developing £350m of projects, including the £9m Microsoft centre and a £50m chemistry faculty refurbishment

  • Norwich Riverside: £75m leisure and retail development

Graduate project manager: £20 000

Newly qualified quantity surveyor: £20 000

Skills in short supply: M&E engineers