In an attempt to stay ahead of events in 2003, Marcus Fairs invested in a crystal ball and saw from the news stories rolling off the presses that life in the construction industry will be as unpredictable as ever …

London to be moved to North in Prescott shake-up of regions
London will be moved to a former coalfield outside Leeds, the deputy prime minister announced on Friday. The move is designed to help reduce the North-South divide.

Tories propose moratorium on all new building
The Conservative party will ban all construction if elected, in a move designed to attract middle-class voters. Shadow ministers say they will designate the entire country as "backyard", meaning no building will be permitted if it has the potential to annoy someone else.

UK office block to be built in China and floated to UK
China began its long-predicted onslaught on Britain's construction industry this week with news that a 500,000 m2 office block, destined for a new commercial area in Southampton, is to be built in a Shanghai shipyard. The building will then be made watertight, pumped full of air and towed to Britain.

Foreigners bag top UK prize
Architects threatened to boycott the RIBA this week after an Iranian and a Spaniard won the UK's top design award – the £20,000 Stirling prize – for a project in Japan. Foreign Affairs Architects, based in London, won for its ferry terminal near Tokyo. One judge said the reputation of the award had suffered, and that next year the jury would play safe and award the prize to Wilkinson Eyre.

Canary Wharf moves into public services
East London office development Canary Wharf is to run public services in neighbouring boroughs. The move comes at the behest of local residents, who are fed up with their filthy streets, high crime rates and poorly maintained housing.

"Canary Wharf is always so clean and tidy – and their buildings get repaired regularly," said one resident. "We've asked them to run our estate."

Egan praises shocked industry

One hundred industry bosses sat in stunned silence on Thursday as former construction tsar Sir John Egan told the industry how well it had done in the past few years. Egan told the annual dinner of the Construction Annual Dinner Confederation: “I’m impressed by what you’ve achieved. When I wrote my report a few years back I deliberately set vague, unachievable targets – but you have managed the impossible.” One leading QS said he was “gobsmacked”. “We thought he’d give us another kicking. I’m amazed.” However, it later emerged that Egan got his notes muddled up and had delivered a speech intended for his son’s graduation. Egan Jr was reportedly in tears when, despite gaining a first in nuclear physics at Cambridge, he was publicly lambasted by his father for “failing to learn the lessons of the car industry”.

Trains so last century, announces Network Rail

Network Rail has fallen into line with the government’s radical transport policy by announcing plans to dig up Britain’s railway lines. Tracks in urban areas will be sold off for redevelopment as long, thin office blocks, and rural tracks will be turned into narrow strips of woodland. “Railways have had their day,” said a spokesperson. “Trains are slow, unreliable and smelly. Nobody uses canals any more, so why railways?” Proceeds from the sale of tracks will be used to build airports, but stations will retain their primary role as shopping malls and drop-in centres for the homeless.

Preserving the future

Preservation quango English Heritage has listed the 306 m Renzo Piano-designed “Shard of Glass” tower, proposed for London Bridge Station. Although it has not yet been built, EH justified the move, saying: “When finished, the Shard will be a design classic – we want to be the first to recognise that.”

Foster to take on 007

Lord Foster has been given a leading role in the next James Bond film. Foster, 94, will play Glassfinger, an evil genius who tries to take over the world and force everyone to live and work in glass buildings. In the movie, provisionally titled You Only Clad Once, Bond thwarts Glassfinger by proving how vulnerable glass is to massive explosions, thereby persuading designers to build sustainable rammed-earth dwellings instead. However, Glassfinger escapes to his lair in the Swiss Alps where he realises the error of his ways and starts building exclusively in wood. Foster is the latest in a long line of architects linked to Bond films. The notorious Goldfinger was based on Erno Goldfinger, architect of Trellick Tower and a friend of Bond author Ian Fleming. Another baddie, Ernst Blofeld, is thought to have been based on Mies van der Rohe.

New bodies to cut bureaucracy

The government has announced a shake-up of industry bodies after criticism of duplication and excessive bureaucracy. Under the proposals, bodies such as the Movement for Innovation, Construction Best Practice and Be will be replaced by bodies with completely different names. The old bodies had come under fire for performing similar functions, which mostly involved “driving forward the Egan agenda”. The precise roles of the new bodies has yet to be established, but it is likely that they will be expected to drive forward the Egan agenda. In addition, 12 new superbodies will be established to co-ordinate the sub-bodies.

Hammersmith better than Barcelona, says Rogers

In a dramatic U-turn, Lord Rogers has declared that the traffic-snarled west London borough of Hammersmith beats Barcelona in the urban design stakes. The urban taskforce chairman, who has for years advocated high-density city living, now believes that urban chaos could ultimately prove to be more sustainable. “Barcelona is so well-planned and beautiful that everyone wants to go there,” said Rogers, who lives in Hammersmith. “This causes massive environmental problems – just think of all the holiday jets and tourist coaches spewing out greenhouse gases. “By contrast Hammersmith is a complete dog’s dinner. This encourages people to stay at home, which is good for the environment.”

Ford unveils ‘car-home’ for commuter population

Struggling car giant Ford has unveiled a concept vehicle it believes will transform the way people live. The “car-home” is effectively a two-bedroom apartment mounted on the chassis of Ford’s Maverick off-roader. Ford says people will be able to live in their cars, thereby reducing pressure on the green belt. Faced by mounting losses in the cut-throat automotive industry, Ford has been looking for a way of breaking into the lucrative housebuilding industry. It believes its advanced production techniques will allow it to compete with traditional houses on cost. The car-home, which features a luxury bathroom, kitchen and roof terrace, should retail for about £15,000. A spokesperson for Ford said the concept made sense since most people now spent more time in their cars than their homes. “You will be able to take a shower, relax with the kids or have a nap on the sofa while stuck in a traffic jam,” he said. Housebuilders said they were monitoring the development with interest. One is already understood to be preparing to fight back with an executive home featuring windscreen wipers and a sunroof.

Contractors’ share prices tumble

Leading contractors have issued a joint statement assessing the future profitability of Britain’s biggest industry. The statement said: “Improving productivity combined with the government’s huge public spending programme mean that earnings should increase steadily over the next five years.” The City reacted instantly, marking down shares across the sector. The downgrade wiped billions off the price of companies that were already in the doldrums following years of City uninterest. One analyst justified the downgrade saying, “That’s what we always do when the sector puts out a statement. No, I didn’t read it. What did it say?”

Push for women backfires

A poster campaign to attract women to the industry was axed after accusations of sexism. The posters, featuring a female carpenter and the legend “Susan did a lot of screwing on wooden floors”, were last week removed from billboards around the country. A spokesman for the Construction Training Organisation said: “We’re sorry if we caused any offence. We thought it was funny.” He added: “We thought it might help get more birds to join the industry.” The posters are popular with site workers, however. “It’s even better than the Melinda Messenger double-glazing ads,” said a Swindon subbie, who added: “Phwooarrr.”

CrossRail axed in favour of cycle lane

Ministers have ditched the proposed CrossRail line, saying it would merely increase passenger journeys in the South-east and inflate property prices in “affordable” areas such as Barking Reach. Instead, the government unveiled a state-of-the-art cycle lane that will link Heathrow airport to the west of London with the Thames Gateway regeneration zone in the east. By utilising existing transport corridors – such as canal towpaths, back alleys and the hard shoulder of the M4 – ministers reckon they can deliver the scheme for about £185 – a fraction of the £2bn cost of CrossRail. Ministers will now ask consultants to draw up detailed costings and route options. The consultancy work is expected to cost £4bn and take less than a decade.

Sites to be disabled-friendly

The European Union is to introduce legislation to make construction sites accessible to disabled workers. Under the far-reaching proposals, scaffolding, plant and even hand-tools such as shovels may have to be completely redesigned. The move caught the unions on the hop. UniForm, the newly amalgamated union for everything, first issued a statement welcoming the move, then retracted it and issued another saying it was concerned the move would compromise the safety of both disabled and non-disabled workers. “What if someone in a wheelchair rolls off the top of a tall building?” said one unnamed official. “They could kill someone – possibly even themselves.” However, groups representing the disabled said they thought the legislation would never make it through the European parliament. “Why would a disabled person want to work on a construction site?” the source asked. “It’s cold, wet, and dangerous – disabled people aren’t that stupid.”