ICE boss says British builders must keep up with the European counterparts

John Armitt has warned that the UK’s construction industry needs to reform or it could find itself left behind by competitors after the UK leaves the EU.

Speaking to Building ahead of the publication of the Institute of Civil Engineers’ (ICE) report on the implications of Brexit, Armitt noted that the UK has to be open for a “two way street” after it exits the EU, to ensure the free flow of ideas continues to come into the country, otherwise European construction firms may steal an advantage over homegrown firms.

Armitt said: “If we limit our exposure to ideas we will be pushing ourselves backwards, if we seek to sell our competencies to the world then we have to be open to new ideas for us, it’s a two way street.”

The ICE’s report called on the UK government to clarify its future relationship with the European Investment Bank (EIB) after Brexit and to work to safeguard the UK’s position as a popular destination for private investment to deliver its £500bn infrastructure pipeline.

The body also called on Theresa May to avoid a “self-inflicted” skills crisis and to use the newly-formed industrial strategy to promote infrastructure innovation and technology.

Armitt, who oversaw development of the London 2012 Olympic Park and managed the construction of the second Severn Crossing between Engand and Wales which opened in 1996, said the UK needs to speed up measures to streamline design and construction on major projects and also capture the potential of off-site manufacture.

He said: “The second [Severn] crossing project was won on the basis of the integration of design and build and the effect that had on the entire process. You find that the big Spanish companies are vertically integrated - we are not as successful at that at present.

“The move to off-site can go faster, our weakness is that there is not enough integration in design and construction at the moment.”

On the subject of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, Armitt said the UK and the EU could have to contend with what may seem like two separate negotiations at the same time, one in private and another in the public sphere.

Armitt added: “A major challenge is how do those who carry out negotiations carry them out when someone, somewhere every day will be reporting on it. There will be heresay and the media will jump on it. The negotiation almost happens in two places at once.”