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Bouncing back better

By using construction logistics intelligently, we can minimise the impact and deliver construction materials much more efficiently, says Matt Barker.

IT was great to see investors and developers taking the brakes off after the Covid-19 lockdown, and we all hope for more of that in the future. But in London, more construction work comes at a cost.

New buildings and refits generate site traffic, and that sits uncomfortably in one of the world’s busiest cities. Fatalities, injuries, pollution and financial costs are among the impacts that follow from moving materials around London inefficiently.

It’s far from ideal for contractors receiving materials on site from multiple suppliers on different schedules, and it’s often a wasteful way to fulfil orders for suppliers including the flooring and tiling industry with drivers stuck in traffic, picking up congestion charges and having to leave materials on site until contractors are ready to use them.

It doesn’t have to be this way. By using construction logistics intelligently, we can minimise the impact and deliver construction materials much more efficiently.

We know how. The challenge is rolling it out.

Construction as usual?
Every year in the UK, more than 5,000 pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable road-users are killed or injured in collisions with construction vehicles, according to the organisation Construction Logistics and Community Safety (CLOCS).

While public information campaigns have persuaded more people to walk and cycle around town, efforts to control construction traffic have been less impactful, although I hope they’re now gathering momentum.

London is by no means the only UK city with a pollution problem, but central London’s size, dense road network and high buildings make it one of the worst.

Transport accounts for a significant share of London’s carbon emissions. Not surprisingly, it’s high on the hit-list for policymakers trying to reduce London’s carbon footprint.

Construction traffic adds to CO2 emissions for individual projects, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by green-minded developers. Congestion is another downside, as the construction sector generates a third of London’s daytime HGV traffic, according to CLOCS.

Construction traffic accounts for plenty of noise pollution too. People move into areas that are being redeveloped for lifestyle benefits that are then compromised by HGVs and vans arriving on and leaving nearby sites.

Unless something changes, the post-pandemic bounce back will see construction traffic soaring with all that means for road safety, the environment, congestion, developers’ bottom lines and quality of life. But what is the alternative?

A better way with construction logistics
On most sites, materials are delivered on suppliers’ own vehicles or via their distribution chains. That means multiple vehicles turning up onsite, one carrying flooring, another tiling and another bathroom fittings for example, rather than sharing loads.

Typically, materials will arrive in bulk orders to suit the supplier’s distribution priorities. This rarely matches the daily needs or conditions of a construction site. What’s more, it significantly increases the frequency of deliveries and can result in vehicles being partially empty for many journeys to site and wholly empty coming away, both of which translate into increased traffic and inefficiency.
The alternative is to use a Construction Consolidation Centre (CCC).

CCCs work like this: large consignments from various suppliers providing materials for the same project arrive off-site at a distribution hub where they can be stored short-term. The contractors then call off smaller batches for delivery as and when required.

Delivering various materials from different suppliers to site in one load just as they’re needed also allows the right kind of vehicle to be used for each journey. Vehicles can also take away packaging, returns and waste materials.

Deliveries can be timed to avoid peak traffic periods or even made overnight, a tactic that was used well during construction for the London Olympics.

With an increasing number of new developments, especially high-rise residential ones, using offsite modular construction methods, CCCs ensure that the only components onsite are those required for the current phase of construction.

Driving the new logistics
The London Mayor’s Transport Strategy backs the methodology, and London councils have been adopting Construction Logistics Plans as a condition of planning permission. London also needs developers and main contractors to embrace the concept.

I’m proud to be involved in the Construction Logistics Improvement Group (CLIG) alongside other providers, TfL, HS2 and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport.

Making it happen
I hope that suppliers in the flooring and tiling market will agree this is a better solution. I know many others in construction, transport and government are increasingly committed to implementing effective construction logistics across London.

As London bounces back, technology and other factors will drive new ways of working. For the construction industry, better logistics will be an integral part of the new normal, and its success will be measured in lives saved, injuries averted, better air quality, reduced congestion, improved quality of life and improved on-site construction efficiency.
Matt Barker is managing director
of CSB Logistics

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