Key role of construction and development sector - comment

Steering a group of diverse companies through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic has been – to quote TV’s Sir Humphrey – “interesting” and not without tricky moments, but when I sat down recently to review Muir Group’s achievements over recent months and to look at opportunities for 2021, I was anything but discouraged.

We are seeing strong interest from families who are outgrowing apartments, says Muir. Picture: Denise McIntyre.

There are most definitely bright spots – certainly with respect to the construction and development sector in Scotland, which is showing remarkable resilience – and I include Aberdeenshire in that analysis.

While the group has faced additional challenges this year, there have been considerable achievements too, notably at Muir Construction, which grew new orders to boost turnover by some £30 million for 2021 during lockdown time, including high-profile premises for Hermiston Securities at Glasgow Business Park.

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But it is Muir Homes – our new homes for private sale – that is proving to be the most resilient. We sold out at three developments over the past year, and plan to replace these in the next 12 months from a choice of Perthshire, Angus and Aberdeenshire, when many housebuilders are reducing outlets.

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These new starts will bring many new homes to these areas in 2021, with a group turnover of more than £100m. This will help the Muir Group business to grow further in 2021.

We are seeing strong interest from families who are currently living in – and outgrowing – apartments. As a result of this trend, we have made changes to the mix of homes we build, recognising that demand for the largest, most luxurious properties has been temporarily dampened by Brexit and the health crisis.

But there is another reason why our new homes keep selling well, and it’s because of one key ingredient that has bolstered most of us during lockdown. That is community, and ensures that our developments are designed and built to foster an even stronger feeling of living within a supportive community.

We have made this our watchword, enhancing the built environment with lots of green space, and in areas where there are good amenities, services and transport links, this encourages people to thrive. An example of our approach will be seen at our new Blairs Village in Deeside, which is being designed to attract a wider range of families and pockets.

Striking a chord

The gardens and outside spaces will also be bigger than average, which strikes a chord when more people are working from home. Similarly, our latest development in Stanley, Perthshire will see a 50:50 ratio of housing to green open space.

Another growth area for Muir Group is the performance of Hermiston Securities, our property investment arm. We are in final negotiations to lease two commercial sites in the central belt. The first involves a site at Deer Park, our Fairways Business Park in Livingston which, if successful, means the arrival in Scotland of a high-profile business that does yet have a presence here.

The second deal, at a 19-acre site adjacent to the M8 in Glasgow, is set to leased by a global logistics company. I mention these ventures to illustrate that there are definitely deals to be done and that these will, in turn, leverage other opportunities to help us collectively rebuild the Scottish economy and safeguard jobs.

Muir Group also seeks out business ventures that provide scope for involvement across the group companies. A typical approach can be shown by our site at Glasgow Business Park where Hermiston Securities has acquired the site and secured the consents, Muir Construction will build the commercial premises, roads and install drainage, on other sites similar retracting releases land from Hermiston to build Homes by Muir Homes and Timber Frames from Muir Timber Systems.

Our flexible approach has worked well for us for decades and I am confident will continue to help us trade through the current market changes. The path ahead follows a different, steeper course, but the rewards are there for those who have the confidence and ability to adapt.

John Muir, founder and chairman, Muir Group

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