Builders in Oxfordshire at last see light at the end of recession tunnel

Michael Puttick, managing director of building firm Kingerlee

Michael Puttick, managing director of building firm Kingerlee

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AFTER banging their heads against a brick wall, Oxfordshire’s builders can see light at the end of the tunnel.

The construction industry has been in the doldrums for the past six years but new figures show it is on the up.

According to the Construction Products Association, which represents building materials manufacturers, it will grow by 22 per cent during the next five years.

Local firms say they have been protected by the wealth of the University’s colleges and private schools, which have carried on splashing out on extensions despite the downturn.

Now the property market is booming, home owners are spending more. But the CPA does not expect the market to return to pre-recession levels until 2017.

One of the problems is big, national firms undercutting on price, or ‘suicide bidding’, to net plum contracts.

David Nelms, of Wheatley-based Oxford Construction Company, saw his fees slashed by up to 60 per cent.

He said: “Other builders were pricing so low, we couldn’t compete.

“Some of the big builders were losing money on jobs, just to keep their guys working.

“Smaller firms were forced to lower our daily rates and ours fell from £180 to £100.

“When you are running vans and have to pay insurance, that’s a nightmare.

“And the cost of materials is going up so much, where we used to put a six-month limit on quotes, we changed it to one month.

“Prices are creeping back up but they are still not where we’d like them to be.”

Mark Beard, managing director of Beard Construction, has taken on 55 new staff during the past 18 months at the firm’s bases in Cumnor Hill, Swindon and Guildford.

He said: “Things picked up last spring and that’s down to the economy but also driven by house builders, who have bounced back.”

Michael Puttick, managing director of Kidlington building firm Kingerlee, which is tackling a £9m extension project for Abingdon School and built a new £35m quadrangle at St John’s College, called on the Government to give local firms more chance to win contracts for health centres and academies, which he says are snapped up by national contractors.

He said: “The Government talks about giving small and medium-sized contractors an opportunity but we get very little.

“This isn’t sour grapes, it’s reality.”

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