Covid building shortages and price hikes delay school opening

Lyde Green families were left scrambling for places, as soaring construction demand worldwide pushes up material costs and lead times

Lyde Green families were left scrambling for places, as soaring construction demand worldwide pushes up material costs and lead times

30 Jan 2022, 17:00

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Building material shortages and price hikes have delayed a new school’s launch by a year, leaving families scrambling for places at a few days’ notice.

The delayed construction of Lyde Green Secondary School near Bristol highlights Covid’s disruption to building projects, with nine-month waits for roof tiles and a third of companies reporting material shortages.

Experts said strict timelines for work outside term-time left schools especially vulnerable.

Lyde Green was due to welcome 120 Year 7 pupils in September in temporary accommodation and move on site in 2023.

But South Gloucestershire Council has told parents escalating costs and increased construction delays will delay opening until 2024.

It highlighted “market conditions” affecting supply and cost of building materials and labour.

Dave Baker
Dave Baker

Dave Baker, the chief executive of the Olympus Academy Trust, which is due to run the school, said it was “awful” not welcoming pupils as planned. Olympus will offer about 60 more places at a trust school several miles away, the same as the number of first preferences.

But families had just six days to find new places.

“There are a lot of angry parents,” said Georgina Binks, noting families had been awaiting a secondary at the new development for years. Her daughter was “heartbroken” and feared she might never study there if the initial intake was limited to younger age groups.

Binks, who recently had a stroke, said the new school’s location – a short walk away – would have been “ideal” as it allowed her daughter, who helps to care for her, to return home at short notice or pick up her brother from the nearby primary.

Georgina Binks
Georgina Binks

Baker said the delayed launch reflected “eye-watering” costs and “incredibly long lead-in time” to construct the school’s nearby temporary site too, from mobile classrooms to toilet blocks.

He highlighted gaps between government budgets and builders’ prices. “The numbers didn’t align.”

Cost pressures on the permanent site also reflected updated designs and the contract changing hands, said a spokesman for new contractor BAM. This had “cost implications”, despite BAM mitigating risks and material cost pressures through “early proactive procurement”.

It is understood the council hopes issues can be swiftly resolved through negotiations and potentially extra funding. 

A leading construction survey earlier this month found a third of companies reporting supplier delays. Higher fuel, energy and raw material prices were pushing up costs, while shipping delays and haulage shortages meant long waits, the IHS Markit poll found.

Graham Watts, the chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, highlighted waits of up to 41 weeks for some roof tiles, and problems securing bricks, boilers, steel lintels and some paints.

Tim Claremont, a partner specialising in construction at law firm Browne Jacobson, said issues partly reflected a construction boom as Britain and other countries emerged from lockdowns.

Another multi-academy trust’s accounts show “supply chain difficulties” meant £2.6 million of its £3 million capital funding received in-year went unspent.

Future Academies, founded by the former academies minister Lord Nash, said “a number of projects” had been deferred. It did not respond to request for comment.

Similar issues have affected other schools worldwide, from the paused rebuild of a Belfast secondary to delayed roofing work on Californian schools.

Watts said most product stocks were “relatively good”, however, and industry polls showed some pressures easing. But he warned price hikes and delays in shipping could last months as Covid shut Chinese ports and UK brick production problems continued. 

Claremont said schools faced particular headaches if work was impossible outside holidays. “Any slippage in often tight programmes can easily prevent works being completed on time, and schools either fail to open or need to find alternative solutions to accommodate additional students, which can be costly.”

A DfE spokesperson said it was working “actively” with the council towards swift completion, but South Gloucestershire was responsible for delivery and enough alternative places were available this September.

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