What's Happening?

GMIT Construction Conference hears industry output to jump by 10% in 2020 amid concerns about skills shortages and tender price inflation

Friday, April 24, 2020

The 10th annual GMIT International Construction Management Conference took place on 3 March, in the GMIT Dublin Road campus with over 350 delegates attending various sessions throughout the day.

The annual conference is the largest construction event in the west of Ireland and is hosted by the Department of Building and Civil Engineering at GMIT. The conference is sponsored and supported by The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI, the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) and the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).

The conference was officially opened by Dr Michael Hannon, Acting President of GMIT, who warmly welcomed delegates from all over Ireland and the United Kingdom.

John O’ Regan, Director, Head of Buildings and Places, AECOM Ireland, gave an overview of the construction sector, comparing construction output before the economic collapse in 2006 (€35 billion) to a post collapse figure in 2011 (€10 billion). Since then there has been consistent growth year on year. The forecast is for continued growth of 10% this year (2020) to a projected €25 billion. Mr O’ Regan noted that there would be some significant changes to the approach the industry must take in the years to come: Energy – renewable energy will be the norm, Transport – electric shared autonomy and more employees walking, cycling and running to and from work, Water – critical infrastructure will have provision of water as a central theme,  Buildings – carbon/low energy used in building operations, Cities will be the focus – denser living being part of it, and Investor funds – more focused climate focused investment decisions being taken.

Johanna Gill, President of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland and Director at Cushman & Wakefield, gave a presentation on Building Better Buildings, she prompted the audience to engage in higher-level strategic thinking about how the construction and property industries could work together to provide better buildings. She stated that we are at a turning point and that we need to examine how we view buildings, streets, cities, etc... Johanna asserted that it is incumbent on the industry to do this. Johanna’s holistic view of better buildings examined how buildings can be made better for occupiers, for businesses, for the environment and for landlords/owners.

Jayne Hall, Senior Vice-President of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers and Built Environment Enforcement Officer at South Gloucestershire Council in the UK, addressed the audience on the very pertinent topic of Well-Being and Mental Health in the Construction Sector. Mental health in the construction industry is a very serious, and sometimes fatal issue. UK Health and Safety Executive figures indicate that 20% of all cases of ill-health in the UK construction sector are due to work-related stress, depression and anxiety and that over 400,000 workdays are lost each year due to this. A startling statistic delivered by Jayne is that the suicide rate for construction labourers is three times higher than the male suicide rate in the UK. As a male-dominated industry, this is of serious concern. Jayne highlighted that employers need to take measures to show staff that they value them.

Conference Chair, Dr Martin Taggart from GMIT, noted similar mental health issues pertained in the Irish construction sector. Dr Taggart stated, “Mental health is a significant issue in the construction industry and is gaining significant attention from firms within the industry and positive mental health is being heavily promoted by the Construction Industry Federation”. Commenting on the success of the wider conference, Dr Taggart added “We are delighted to reach the ten-year mark with the conference. It was a great success because it has been embraced and supported by the built environment community as a whole.” 

Richard Fitzpatrick, Chair of Lean Construction Ireland (LCI) and Angelyn Rowan, a partner with Phillip Lee Solicitors, shared a common theme in their presentations. They outlined the necessity for an organisational and industry change in culture for the adoption of Lean thinking principles and practice into the construction sector.  They claimed this is essential to address the chronic issues of poor quality, low efficiency and low productivity in the construction sector. Lean thinking for construction projects advocates doing things differently, to eliminate waste and maximise value for clients on construction projects. These principles include embracing new ideas, such as collaborations between all stakeholders, new procurement approaches and contracts that seek to increase a fair appropriation of risks, add value for the client and reduce waste.

David Humphreys and Nancy O’Keeffe from Architectural Conservation Professionals provided an excellent presentation on the challenges of conserving historic Buildings. David set up ACP in 2000 to promote high standards in conservation. David suggested that we should look upon our older building stock as a fundamental part of Irish culture in the same way that the Irish Language or the GAA or Irish dancing is viewed and cherished in the same way. He felt that until very recently there was scant regard for conservation in Ireland and because of that fact, important parts of our history had been lost. Nancy used a recent award-winning project, the well-known Aran Sweater Market in Spanish Arch, Galway, to showcase best practice in conservation. This building stood as a ruin for over a decade on a very prominent Galway site before it was rescued and brought back into use by a team led by ACP and Tobin Engineers. The project won awards from both Engineers Ireland and the Chartered Association of Building Engineers for the quality of the restoration work.

Pat Barry, CEO of the Irish Green Building Council, noted that the Built Environment influences over 50% of Ireland’s carbon emissions and that Ireland cannot meet the commitments set out in the COP21 Paris agreement without eliminating all carbon emissions (operational and embodied). The application of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) was explained by Mr Barry and how they allow manufacturers of construction products to provide verifiable information on the environmental impacts of their products. In order to reduce the carbon footprint of buildings and to construct more efficiently in the future, Mr. Barry explained some of the measures which designers need to consider at design stage such as low carbon construction technologies, eliminating waste and unnecessary elements and use of demountable foundations.

Continuing the theme of building more efficiently, Darragh Lynch (Principal, Darragh Lynch Architects) gave a very interesting presentation on the Boiler House project in Ballymun, Co Dublin which was completed in 2017. The original boiler house supplied heat and water to 3,000 flats and was scheduled for demolition as part of the Ballymun Regeneration Project. However, this changed, and it was decided to reinvent the iconic building and use it as the Rediscovery Centre’s headquarters. The aim of the project was the repurpose the building as a prototype 3D textbook and demonstrate the potential for reuse of existing buildings. Mr. Lynch described the many novel features of the project and how every part of the building was treated as an opportunity to learn about reuse. The building has since won the National ‘Green Construction Award’ and SEAI’s ‘Green Building Award’.

The sustainability features of Bonham Quay project which is currently under construction in the Galway Docks was described by Alan Cawley, Sustainability Manager for Sisk Contractors. Mr Cawley highlighted the strong focus on sustainability for the project and stated that the aim of the project is achieve LEED Gold standard, Gold WELL Building Standard and to comply with the One Planet Living sustainability framework. To ensure that the Bonham Quay project attains the sustainability certification, every facet of the development has been carefully considered such as water efficiency, energy use, materials, resources and indoor environment. Sisk Contractors have implemented several Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which allow them to track their performance during the construction phase.

Shane O’Connor, Senior Civil Engineer for John Sisk and Sons, Contractors, gave a very informative presentation in relation to his current project which is the large Grangegorman development for Technological University Dublin (TUD). In particular, Mr O’Connor’s presentation focused on the application of BIM (Building Information Modelling) on this project and how it was used by the contractor to build more efficiently.

Dr Mark Kelly, lecturer and researcher in the Department of Building and Civil Engineering in GMIT, described what is meant by the circular economy with respect to construction and how it could be implemented. Many of the issues outlined by Dr Kelly such as design for flexibility, designing out waste and design for longevity echoed many of the design principles previously discussed by Mr. Barry in relation to reducing embodied carbon in construction and by Mr Lynch with respect to the Boiler House project. In addition, Dr Kelly gave a brief summary of the BIM Futures project in GMIT which aims to provide a framework for students, academic staff and industry to learn about BIM as the construction industry evolves towards a more collaborative and digital working environment.

In the afternoon plenary session delegates heard from Eddie Tuttle, Director of Policy, Research and Public Affairs at CIOB, who shared the platform with Paul Nash, Past-President of CIOB. Paul is currently a member of the Industry Safety Steering Group and the Procurement Advisory Group, that were set up to advise the UK Government on Building Safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. He also chaired the CIOB’s Construction Quality Commission, which was established to investigate the issue of quality in construction and what needs to be done to improve it following the Edinburgh Schools (a potentially life-threatening structural failure) report and other high-profile UK failures of quality in the industry.

The final two presentations of the day were made by member firms of the Construction Industry Federation, Collen Construction and Wills Bros Ltd. Alan Barnes, Senior Project Manager of Collen Construction, gave a stunning presentation of his refurbishment and extension of the Scots Church project off Abbey Street in Dublin. The project married historic building renovation on the old Presbyterian Church, with the addition of a cutting-edge futuristic office building. The project posed exceptional technical and logistical challenges due to it mix of old and new and its constricted inner-city location adjacent to railway tracks. Alan received the Chartered Institute of Building gold medal and award of Construction Manager of the Year, 2019 for his efforts on the project.

Keith Mayock, Design Manager for Wills Bros Ltd, provided a detailed overview of the new N5 Westport to Turlough Road project in County Mayo, which is currently in the detailed design stage. The development, at an overall cost of €241 million, involves the construction of over 20 km of dual carriageway from Westport to Turlough.  The route stretches from Deerpark East in Westport to the village of Ballyneggin, near Turlough, Castlebar, in addition to a 2.5km single carriageway link to the N59 Westport to Mulranny national secondary road. The project marks a very welcome new civil engineering project for the west of Ireland, where such projects have been very sparse in recent years. Keith sent the audience home with a smile on their faces, claiming that he had built in a special contingency plan to open the road early for the homecoming, for “when” Mayo win the all-Ireland final.

Gerard MacMichael, Head of the School of Engineering at GMIT, delivered the vote of thanks and noted the exceptional growth and popularity of the conference over the past decade.
Mary Rogers, Head of Department of Building and Civil Engineering, commented on the development of the conference over the past 10 years to become the largest single construction event in the West of Ireland, enhancing the profile of GMIT across the built environment industry and Higher Education sector.