Q&A with Mike Starr – Business Development Manager

In a recent Q&A with The FDS Group’s very own business development manager in the North and Midlands, Mike Starr, we discussed some of the major challenges and opportunities which are being faced within the North and Midlands.

Take a look at his responses here:

According to a 2019 study, “Almost two-thirds (65%) of developers plan to increase their investment activity in the North substantially over the next two years, with the biggest opportunities being in houses and flats”.

With this projection being made prior to the pandemic, would you suggest construction in the North has been affected? 

We definitely saw a significant slowdown in construction activity when the first lockdown hit, as the entire construction industry ‘held its breath’ and waited to see what would happen before committing to new projects.

Existing projects that were already under construction largely continued on however, and the construction industry definitely seemed to regain its confidence far quicker than many other industries.

Halfway through 2021, the vast majority of projects that were put on hold are now being pushed forward again, demonstrating the confidence of investors in the continued demand for high quality accommodation, hotels, offices and leisure facilities, particularly in the major northern cities and university towns.

Which cities in the Northern regions would you say have the most potential for (re)development and why?

Manchester has been the stand-out leader in new and large-scale construction projects for years now, and there’s little evidence to suggest that the number of new projects will reduce in the coming few years, however, there has definitely been a significant increase in the quantity of high-value developments being proposed and approved in the other major Northern cities of Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and across the region as a whole.

Projects such as Kampus and Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester are now being challenged by equally impressive developments such as:

  • Paddington Village in Liverpool,
  • Altus House in Leeds, which will become the new tallest building in Yorkshire,
  • The Heart of the City development in Sheffield City Centre,
  • The Octagon at Paradise 2 in Birmingham.

All of these are shining examples of the North’s growing attractiveness to investors who can see the massive potential in this long-overlooked region.

The construction industry has been experiencing shifting legislature resulting in changes to designing, installing and maintaining Smoke Venting systems. Consequently, which of the changes do you think will have the biggest impact on Developers and Contractors and why?

(info on these changes can be found here: https://www.fdsconsultuk.com/the-consequences-of-tighter-regulations-on-construction/)

I’d say that the Hackitt Report, produced in the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, was the immediate catalyst for change, however the following MHCLG report will probably be one of the key documents that will have lasting effects on developers and contractors for years to come.

In prohibiting the use of a number of building materials that are potentially combustible, and imposing significant new requirements by introducing statutory gateways that all firms will now have to satisfy in order to move a project forward, will definitely have an impact on the approvals process for all new projects.

From your experience of working with clients to fulfill their Smoke Ventilation requirements on a project, what are the most common client pain points and aspects they should be considering?

The number one takeaway I have from my experience in Smoke Ventilation is that a project runs far more smoothly if the client engages with us at an early stage. Far too often the smoke ventilation package can take a back seat, and when it comes to the time when we are asked to get involved a number of key decisions on the project have already been made, making it far more difficult to integrate our system within the building and causing tension among other trades.

Getting us in early to provide the benefit of our expertise usually pays dividends in saving time and a lot of potential pain further down the project’s timeline.

What lessons can be learned for Northern firms now seeking to work on larger scale projects in the North?

I think that the number of tower block developments being approved and built in the North are already on the rise (pardon the pun). Whilst I doubt that the North will ever rival London and the South-East in terms of the total number of developments, clearly the demand for such projects in the Northern regions is strong and growing, with investment available from major players across the globe.

The clear take-away from this is that the best time to get involved in such projects is, if not 5 years ago, then right now. There has never been such opportunity for developers in the North, and I don’t see that momentum fading in the next 5-10 years.

How can Contractors and Developers ensure their Smoke Ventilation systems are compliant?

Following the Grenfell tragedy and the subsequent focus on fire safety compliance in the Construction sector, it’s imperative that architects, developers and M&E contractors hire proven competent smoke ventilation contractors, to ensure that the smoke ventilation system will function exactly as required in the event of a fire.

To that end they should ensure that their Smoke Ventilation contractor is SCA (Smoke Control Association) approved. Any firm wishing to be a member of the SCA must pass rigorous checks and provide proof of their competence against a range of key criteria, and are obliged to submit to regular audits to ensure that they remain so.

Needless to say, FDS Contracting were one of the first Smoke Ventilation Contractors to demonstrate our competence and receive this approval from the SCA, and we continue to be an active member of the Association.

What are the key factors Contractors/Developers should be looking for when sourcing a quote for Smoke Venting?

We know that cost is always a key driver when sourcing the smoke ventilation package for a project, however it’s crucial that a contractor or developer ensures that they are comparing ‘apples with apples’ when it comes to looking at the quotes that come in. This can be tricky when dealing with such a specialised requirement.

FDS Contracting offer a free quote comparison service for this exact reason – there’s no sense in appointing the contractor with the cheapest initial quote, only to discover that the final cost is far higher when all the required equipment is finalised and included.

Just a few examples of some items that may be excluded are: CFD modelling, roof vents, smoke detection systems and wiring. You can check out our news article on our website for further advice and info: https://www.fdscontracting.co.uk/news/quantity-surveyors-what-to-look-out-for-in-smoke-venting-quotes/

If you’d like to find out more information about the topics discussed with Mike, head over and book one of our CPDs. With the industry constantly evolving, we regularly revisit the CPDs we deliver to ensure they provide current and comprehensive education seminars.