To shut or not to shut: Construction emerges as fault line in UK lockdown policy

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The big debate today after Britain enters lockdown is whether our construction sites should now be shut.


Prime minister Boris Johnson has instructed the people of Britain to stay home, further isolate themselves and only travel to work “where this is absolutely necessary”.

But questions are growing as to quite how necessary the construction industry is, given the threat of the pandemic to the National Health Service.

Until now, the prime minister has generally carried impressive support his coronavirus strategy. But this is now starting to fragment – both among political leaders and the working population – over the issue of the construction industry.

That little building work can be done from home is obvious; what is not obvious is whether it is correct to classify construction workers as key workers who are exempt from the lockdown. The government wants sites to stay open; others are not sure that is wise.

Robert Jenrick, the secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, tweeted shortly after the prime minister’s television address to the nation on 23rd March: “Advice for the housing, construction & building maintenance industries: If you can work from home, do so. If you are working on site, you can continue to do so. But follow Public Health England guidance on social distancing.”

Housing secretary provides some clarity

The mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who controls some of the country’s biggest construction projects as ultimate boss of Transport for London,  is on the verge of shutting construction sites down.

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