Coronavirus: Building sites to increase working hours til 9pm in residential areas

Construction sites are set to increase their working hours and operate later into the evening as part of the government’s bid to restart the economy.

Between Mondays and Saturdays, building sites in England will be able to operate until 9pm in residential areas, and for longer in non-residential areas, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced on Wednesday.

He said building sites could apply for this extension with “immediate effect” as it would help the industry “catch up” on work missed during weeks in the coronavirus lockdown.

“Flexible working hours” will also make it easier for builders to maintain social distancing guidelines, Mr Jenrick continued, adding that this would, in turn, ease pressure on public transport.

Robert Jenrick outlines how one can move house during the pandemic

How you can move house during pandemic

He added: “These applications should be approved by local councils unless there are very compelling reasons not to do so.”

Housebuilders Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon earlier confirmed that construction work had resumed, with the former saying the relaxation of measures was a “very welcome” change.

Crest Nicholson said it would restart work next Monday.

Also in the government’s daily press conference, Mr Jenrick later laid out further plans to allow for the housing market to reopen.

Estate agent offices, show homes and removal companies can open from today, while virtual and in-person property viewings can also recommence.

Admitting that guidelines “may seem confusing at first glance” due to people being separated from families during lockdown but now being permitted to visit a stranger’s home, he stressed that viewings should be virtual, where possible.

He added: “Where viewings do happen in person, we’ve set out a clear plan to ensure the safety of everybody involved in the property itself.”

This will include viewings being by appointment only, a ban on open-house viewings, and a discouragement from speculative viewings, where buyers or tenants “are not serious yet”.

During the visits themselves, Mr Jenrick said social distancing will need to be maintained, while all internal doors inside the property should be kept open.

The occupier should also not be in the property at the time of the viewing and is advised to use this time to take permitted exercise outside, or “standing in the garden, if that’s possible”.

Hand washing is advised, as per the usual guidelines, and all surfaces must be cleaned properly once prospective buyers have left the premises.

Those who are self-isolating and have purchased or sold a property recently “should not be moving,” Mr Jenrick stressed, and encouraged alternative arrangements be made to postpone moving dates for those involved.

But these new guidelines for the home-selling sector have faced criticism from some ministers who said the easing of restrictions “doesn’t necessarily stack up”.

Speaking earlier on Wednesday, SNP housing spokesman David Linden said the official messaging had changed from “stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives, to four days later saying that you can traipse around any random stranger’s house”.

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Shadow housing secretary Thangam Debbonaire said the announcement focusing on movers had ignored those who are at risk of being forced to leave their homes.

She said: “This crisis has taught us that if anyone is struggling, we’re all affected.

“The announcement focused on those who want to move home but it ignored those who are at risk of being forced.

“[Mr Jenrick] talked of show homes but not about people with no homes and we’ve shown that when we work together we can virtually eliminate street homelessness in days. There must be no going back, but people in emergency accommodation face that.”

In response, Mr Jenrick paid tribute to everyone involved in the “tremendous effort” to bring rough sleepers into safer accommodation.

He added: “But now we are in the next phase of that challenge and I don’t underestimate how difficult that will be.”

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