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Work Begins On Burial Site Removal For HS2 Construction

Archaeological work has now begun on a burial ground in Camden’s St James’s Gardens in order to make way for construction of the HS2 network, with 45,000 skeletons set to be removed from the site next door to London Euston station.

According to the BBC, HS2 will be working alongside the Church of England to find somewhere else to rebury the skeletons. Between 1788 and 1853, 61,000 burials took place at St James’s Gardens and this burial ground is one of 60 such sites between London and Birmingham that are now being explored before the construction of the high-speed rail line.

St James’s Gardens itself was first opened back in 1788 to serve as an overspill burial ground, with everyone from all walks of life buried here, from paupers to nobility.

Protests and a memorial service took place before the site was shut in order to build the new terminus station, with campaigners saying that building over it would harm both the local community and the environment. But the HS2 team suggested that the project would provide the extra capacity that Euston station so badly needs.

Head of heritage Helen Wass said that digging up the site would “better our understanding of life and death in London’s 18th and 19th centuries, shedding light on health and disease, social status and lifestyle”.

The archaeology programme forms a pivotal part of the ground preparation works for Phase One of the HS2 project, running from London to Birmingham. More than 1,000 archaeologists have been engaged in order to make sure that the work being done is carried out to a professional standard while making new discovers and leaving a legacy of apprenticeships and skills.

Finds that have already been made include prehistoric tools, two Victorian time capsules and medieval pottery – so who knows what else will be discovered over the next two years.

The programme is in fact the biggest dig in Europe, promising to provide serious insights into the everyday lives of both the people and the communities who made Britain what it is today.

Highlights along the line of the London to Birmingham route include excavating the remains of a medieval manor in Warwickshire, exploring a prehistoric hunter-gatherer site just outside London, learning more about the Black Death and its impact on medieval villages, and the discovering of a WW2 bombing decoy in Lichfield.

“As well as improving connectivity, generating 30,000 new jobs and creating a network of new wildlife habitats, our archaeology programme shows that HS2 is more than a railway; it’s an opportunity to tell the story of our past, create opportunities in the present and leave a lasting legacy for generations to come,” Mark Thurston – HS2 Ltd chief executive – said.

Ms Wass went on to add that all artefacts and human remains are being treated with respect, care and dignity, with discoveries shared with communities through open days, a BBC documentary and expert lectures.

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Construction Training ‘Needs More Practical Focus’

There are fundamental issues with the kind of construction training being offered in the UK, with too much focus being placed on academic achievements and not enough on practical skills.

This is the assertion of a recent article for Property Week, which stressed the need to tackle the skills gap in construction if the UK is to have any chance of filling vacancies across the industry following Brexit.

Citing figures from the Chartered Institute of Building, the news provider noted that the UK’s construction industry needs 170,000 new recruits by 2021 to keep up with existing demand. If the sector fails to respond proactively, it risks curtailing construction capacity.

“We need to change our approach to higher education if we are to attract the best talent. In particular, we need a new generation of site and contract managers with the knowledge, practical skills and autonomy to get things done,” the news provider stated.

It welcomed the government’s announcement that it will invest £22 million in onsite construction skills training, but noted that this isn’t enough on its own. Rather, there should be a greater emphasis on onsite training in university courses.

Focusing too much on the theory of construction will mean that the new generation of workers coming through are unable to “work proactively and pragmatically” in the real world.

Among the recommendations is to run more four-year courses, where a year is spent working in industry while three years are spent on academic learning. This would allow new graduates to experience work as a site manager and a contracts manager, which in turn would provide “a comprehensive level of understanding and produce a higher quality of future leaders”.

But it isn’t only traditional construction skills that the industry needs to work on. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) recently reported that digital technology has the potential to transform the sector. However, this can only happen if people are trained in how to apply it on construction sites.

The CITB research highlights the likes of drones and 3D printing as technology that can help boost productivity and efficiency, while also attracting new people to the sector.

Among the current barriers identified in the report are that the construction sector isn’t utilising cutting-edge technology, and the fact that there’s no shared vision of what digitalisation should achieve in the industry.

Director of policy at CITB Steve Radley stated: “There is no question that construction needs to upskill and recruit new talent to harness the huge opportunities digital technologies present. It is not too late, but it won’t happen without rapid action.”

John O’Connor, group commercial director from Laing O’Rourke, agreed that this area of construction training needs to be addressed and added that doing this in the right way will be crucial in terms of attracting and retaining new talent to the sector. 

The CITB is urging all construction company leaders to “think digitally” and look at where they can upskill within their current workforce, and how they can recruit to enable greater digitalisation in the future.

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UK Construction Industry Warned Over EU Net Migration Figures

Those working in the construction sector here in the UK have been issued a warning by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) regarding EU net migration figures, which is now at its lowest level since 2012.

Sarah McMonagle, director of external affairs at the FMB, explained that this is very worrying for those industries that rely on people coming over from the EU, but particularly for the construction sector.

At the moment, nine per cent of workers in this sector come from the EU, so it’s more reliant than most other sectors on EU employees… and in London, this proportion climbs to almost one-third.

“We can’t afford to lose any more EU workers as currently two-thirds of construction SMEs are struggling to hire bricklayers and 60 per cent are struggling to hire carpenters and joiners. If the government wants its new homes and infrastructure projects built, it needs to do more to back up our industry’s message to all EU workers – they are welcome and they do have a bright future here in the UK,” Ms McMonagle went on to say.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the difference between the number of EU citizens coming into the UK and the number leaving fell to 87,000 in the 12 months leading up to March – the lowest since the year to December 2012.

And net migration to the UK from countries that joined the EU in 2004 was negative for the first time, with more leaving than arriving.

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