The Building Design Workshop

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by The Building Design Workshop's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from The Building Design Workshop is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
Managing Director James Groux
Community centre
in Harrow
The past year has seen somewhat of a renaissance for
The Building Design Workshop, which is a multiskilled
consultancy that promotes sustainable architecture, project
management and expert witness consultancy as its key areas of
business. The practice leans on a broad range of skills and offers
well-founded advice on most aspects of the construction world.
In the past year its portfolio has expanded across the board,
bringing an exciting era for the company, both in the UK and
abroad. With a career spanning over 40 years as an architect,
building contractor, expert witness and project manager, James
Groux, Managing Director of The Building Design Workshop,
has experienced many highs and lows – during which he has
developed a measured and pragmatic view for the future.
A candid insight
While I can take heart in my own prospects, I cannot, and will not, lose sight of
where the building industry currently finds itself and where it needs to go in the
future. After being invited to write this entry I believe I should be offering my true
belief on some of the most pertinent areas of the industry, which are as follows:
1. The UK town planning system
2. The impact of Brexit on the industry
3. The growth of a “cartel” state among large construction firms
4. The pros and cons of growing legislation
»Managing Director: James Groux
»Established in 1982
»Based in Sutton, Surrey
»Services: Chartered architect,
building contractor, expert
witness and project manager
»Heavily engaged in the move
toward more sustainable
»In 1998, it merged with
other architects (Agenda
21 Architects) and in 2010
became a more consultative
The Building Design
The UK town planning system
I am fortunate to have known many
leaders within the field of planning,
and it has become clear that the UK
town planning system is in meltdown.
Much of this is due to a reduction
in skilled planning personnel in local
authorities and the introduction of
complex, overly bureaucratic planning
rules. In my early years of practice it
was common for councils to have a
mixture of planners and architects in
their departments to give a skilled and
measured approach to how planning
applications were dealt with. This is
now severely diluted. Time pressures
mean that applications cannot always
be handled effectively. Often, if a
decision cannot be forthcoming
in the time allocated, it is refused
and thus passed down through
the appeal process. This results in
further pressures on the system, as
the number of appeal inspectors is
In the UK, development land is in very
short supply. The issues surrounding
greenbelt and brownfield continue
to move on a merry-go-round of
indecision. The time is right to
completely overhaul the system.
Our poor history of providing the
required housing stock of the future
will continue unless the process
is remodelled. My view would
be to introduce an independent,
consultancy-led panel of planners,
urban designers and architects to
review and advise on projects over and
above householder level. For the small
domestic projects, a self-certification
system could be introduced in
compliance with a national code, much
in line with the current system for
building regulation approval.
Furthermore, in Greater London
the GLA’s regeneration plans are
often met with resistance from local
authorities. This must be reviewed and
an overriding ruling given to ensure
these plans are implemented with
sensibly measured opposition.
The impact of Brexit on the
The UK public are truly exhausted by
the word “Brexit”. Instead of looking
forward to how we can benefit,
we are burdened with hearing how
we are to be disadvantaged. The
construction industry is a prime
example of pros and cons. On the
positive side, the growth of the UK
construction industry will attract
overseas investors benefiting from
the likely exchange rate impact.
On the negative side, the industry
has lost, and will continue to lose,
skilled foreign labour. The effect
of the Brexit vote has resulted in a
large proportion of eastern European
immigrants leaving the industry.
Before our industry suffers irreparably,
the government must introduce
well-supported training for UK-based
individuals who are keen to work in
construction. This will eventually fill
the void created by the migration of
our current foreign tradesmen.
Indigo Hotel, London
It has become
clear that the
UK town
system is in
Highlighting best practice
The growth of a “cartel state”
in the industry
With particular reference to post-2012
London Olympics, large UK projects
have been dealt out to a reducing
number of “super contractors”.
While I believe there are some benefits
of contracts written under a single
“one stop” approach, there have
been instances whereby very large
construction companies have gone
into liquidation, leaving an apocalyptic
situation behind them. This, in turn,
has resulted in smaller contractors and
subcontractors also being forced into
However much financial strength the
larger companies feel they have, it
is not sufficient to avoid the pitfalls
which bring these companies down.
Further review needs to be undertaken
to establish a fairer way forward
involving more competition for smaller,
less risk-based contractors.
The pros and cons of growing
The construction industry in the UK
prides itself in being at the forefront
for quality and health and safety, and
yet suffers from a level of accidents
that, despite the introduction of a
growing number of regulations, does
not seem to decrease to expectedlevel.
The Grenfell disaster has exposed a
lack of control in managing materials
through a strict regime of assessment
on suitability. The follow-up revisions
to regulations must ensure that this is
avoided in the future.
In my opinion, introducing good-
practice rules and reviewing existing
regulations needs to continue, but
there should be a robust approach to
reducing bureaucracy in an industry
that does, at the smaller end, not
benefit from a workforce blessed with
understanding complex and excessive
rules and regulations.
With a rapidly changing world, the UK
must look to dust away some of the
cobwebs of the past. The construction
industry still remains strong, despite
technology offering answers to many
I have worked in the Far East, Europe,
Africa and the UK, and it’s apparent
that lessons can be learnt from other
countries where buildings can be
constructed and ready for use in a
fraction of the time it takes in the
UK. If we are to achieve the targets
for new housing set down by central
government, we must review the
current methods of procurement and
Further review
needs to be
undertaken to
establish a
fairer way
involving more
for smaller,
less risk-based
Housing unit under
modular construction Indigo Hotel reception

This article was sponsored by The Building Design Workshop. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng.

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng

This year’s Parliamentary Review reflects on a tumultuous and extraordinary year, globally and nationally. As well as being an MP, I am a keen student of history, and I am conscious that 2020 would mark the end of an era. It will be remembered as the year in which we concluded Brexit negotiations and finally left the European Union. Above all, it will be remembered as the year of Covid-19.

In our fight against the pandemic, I am delighted that our vaccination programme is beginning to turn the tide – and I pay tribute to the British businesses, scientists and all those who have helped us to achieve this. But the virus has dealt enormous damage, and we now have a duty to rebuild our economy.

We must ensure that businesses are protected. We have made more than £350 billion available to that end, with grants, business rates relief and our furlough scheme supporting more than 11 million people and jobs in every corner of the country, maintaining livelihoods while easing the pressure on employers. The next step is to work with business to build back better and greener, putting the net zero carbon challenge at the heart of our recovery. This is a complex undertaking, but one which I hope will be recognised as a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Through the prime minister’s ten point plan for a green industrial revolution, we can level up every region of the UK, supporting 250,000 green jobs while we accelerate our progress towards net zero carbon emissions.

With our commitment to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP and the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency, we are empowering our fantastic researchers to take on groundbreaking research, delivering funding with flexibility and speed. With this approach, innovators will be able to work with our traditional industrial heartlands to explore new technologies, and design and manufacture the products on which the future will be built – ready for export around the globe.

And I believe trade will flourish. We are a leading nation in the fight against climate change. As the host of COP26 this year, we have an incredible opportunity to market our low-carbon products and expertise. Our departure from the EU gives us the chance to be a champion of truly global free trade; we have already signed trade deals with more than 60 countries around the world.

As we turn the page and leave 2020 behind, I am excited about the new chapter which Britain is now writing for itself, and for the opportunities which lie ahead of us.
Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy