Growing list of jobs mothballed because of coronavirus outbreak

The mass closure of construction sites will have serious consequences for many practices, architects are warning.

On Tuesday, a wave of contractors and clients announced they would unilaterally close sites despite ministers’ official advice that they could stay open if distancing was observed.

Multiplex was the first to announce it was shutting sites such as PLP’s 22 Bishopsgate in the City of London, followed by similar decisions from other big players including Mace, ISG, Taylor Wimpey, Barratt, TfL, Crossrail and HS2.

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Brendan Kilpatrick, senior partner at PRP, said: “It’s the right decision. Large contractors cannot close head office and then expect their site-based staff and their loyal sub-contractors to carry on risking their health and that of many others.”

But he added: “The decisions have immediate impacts on PRP which we are starting to assess. This is now a battle for survival for a lot of firms in the sector.

“A real concern is the indefinite nature of the closures and the damage this does to the supply chain, if not the construction companies at the head of the chain.

“The government needs to think about implementing a strategy, probably through testing, for getting people back to work after the rate of increase of infection has been neutralised.”

Practices heavily reliant on project delivery are likely to be the most at risk since if architects can’t get on site they can’t bill for the work. “If you have a lot of projects on site you’re going to be freaking out,” one industry source said. Practices with a higher proportion of pre-planning design work will be better placed to ride out the storm.

“Over the last year the industry has seen clients committing to far less big tranches of work at a time, so resourcing has been a real issue,” said an insider at a large practice. “Clients haven’t been making appointments until very late on which is a problem. We’re well diversified but there will be some practices out there that will have some real problems.”

The government has said sites can remain open if social distancing rules, where workers are at least 2m apart, are followed. But many firms have said these are proving impossible to enforce.