The impacts of COVID-19 now are generating productivity losses of about 35% on U.K. construction projects, according to a new study by research consultant Turner & Townsend, based on data from 70 medium-sized commercial jobs.

In a late June report, the Leeds, England-based cost and capital investment consultant said based on projects studied, it modeled that one valued at about $24.6 million with an average 20% productivity loss now faces up to a 35% loss that could generate a construction delay of up to 32 weeks and $738,200 in preliminary cost increase.

T&T also said in an analysis of 45 projects delivered during the pandemic, labor shortages and social distancing impacts accounted for about 7% of productivity losses, with an added 1% lost through "poor transfer of design information while remote working" and 7% more due to late or unavailable materials.

Stephen Gallagher, a T&T principal, pointed to "poor planning and inefficiency" in U.K. construction as contributing factors.

“UK construction has systemic productivity challenges," he said, noting that particularly in a project's final phase, "contractors are often behind schedule and must throw extra labor at sites to try and get buildings finished on time. This usual fix will not be possible with social distancing and reduced labor."

To mitigate COVID-19 impacts and boost performance, the construction sector needs to boost reliance on digital platforms, offsite construction methods and "lean" approaches.

"Boosting construction’s productivity is key to supporting the UK’s wider economic recovery," says Gallagher, pointing to "smarter working practices" that address reduced resources.

"These solutions have been present for some time, but their adoption is now urgent," he says. "We need to see a complete mindset shift to close the productivity gap.”

Meanwhile the U.K. government announced new measures, set to take effect on July 4, that would reduce the current two meter social distance mandate to what it termed "1m+."  The change would take effect only in England, with Scotland, Wales, and northern Ireland following local country rules.

Andy Mitchell, co-chair of the U.K. Construction Leadership Council and CEO of London's Thames Tideway sewer construction program, said that the eased requirement would aide housing and smaller jobsites, according to U.K. media reports.

But he warned that the more restrictive safety protocols that firms have developed since the pandemic began, including still required 2-m distance rules, "will be here for months to come." 

CLC released last month Roadmap to Recovery, a detailed strategy for government and industry actions to spur revival of the UK construction sector.