Scottish Government reiterates stance on essential work in updated construction guidance

Construction sector guidance originally issued at the beginning of April will remain in place until further notice, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

Scottish Government reiterates stance on essential work in updated construction guidance

In newly updated guidance issued on May 1, the government reiterated that only projects which are currently categorised as “essential” under the prevailing circumstances should continue.

As laid out in the business and social distancing guidance, essential services are defined in relation to the 13 Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors, which collectively provide the essential services on which daily life depends and each sector has critical interdependencies with the others.

The 13 designated CNI sectors are: energy; communications (telecommunications, public broadcast, postal services, internet), government, transport, finance, civil nuclear, defence, chemicals, space, health, food, water and waste, and emergency services.

The document contains further guidance on construction sites and associated works that can continue under specific conditions. It includes guidelines which should be applied when considering whether a project falls within the definition of ‘essential’. 

Essential projects include:

  • projects to create or repurpose facilities which will be used directly in COVID-19 related activities including testing, containment, treatment, research, vaccine production, protective equipment manufacture, other key medical supplies, and other related activity, including supply chains to those projects
  • projects to create or repurpose facilities which will be used to accommodate key workers or free-up space in facilities to be used directly in COVID-19 related activities as above
  • projects to create or repurpose facilities and infrastructure critical to the national response to COVID-19 including food production, distribution and digital communication, where these facilities are likely to be completed and operational within 6 months
  • projects which are considered essential public services or which will provide wider resilience and capacity across essential systems (eg which strengthen security of fuel and energy supply)

Essential project examples

The following examples of ‘essential’ projects are provided to help developers’ consideration of whether work should continue on their site:

Health sector

NHS Louisa Jordan

This is a temporary field hospital set up at the SEC in Glasgow to boost NHS Scotland’s bed capacity to cope with the growing number of COVID-19 patients.

Edinburgh Children’s Hospital and Department of Clinical Neurosciences

These are major developments which while not directly contributing to the COVID-19 situation at this point, could provide additional capacity if the situation changes.

Children’s Hospital in Glasgow: refurbishment of wards 2A and 2B

Work is underway on essential water and drainage issues in the two paediatric cancer wards at the Royal Hospital for Children. The nature of the patient cohort using these wards gives these works the designation of essential.

Essential and time-critical maintenance

There are a range of small-scale projects around essential maintenance and repairs, that need to be delivered to secure sustainable and resilient services.

Bearing in mind the broad principles outlined here, NHS Boards are exptected to make decisions on individual sites and projects in conjunction with the contractor(s).

Transport sector

Operation and essential maintenance of the transport network

The safe and effective operation of transport network is essential to the national response to COVID-19. There are a number of smaller scale projects that are required to be delivered which are essential and time-critical for the safe and effective operation of the transport network in Scotland. Works include essential road and rail repairs, essential structure repairs and ongoing safety monitoring of the networks. In addition, essential winter maintenance activities will continue as required along with incident responses required to keep the critical transport network open.

Road works and works for roads purposes

Works as defined in the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991 includes a subset of works which are vital for the wellbeing of society. The continued provision of essential utility services, energy, telecoms, water (including sewerage) within an effectively operating road network is vital during this period. Where works fall within the existing emergency and urgent works categories, and where the requirements on physical distancing can be met, these are considered essential. Other planned works including proposed upgrades or non-critical rehabilitation schemes should not be undertaken during this period.

Works which are deemed essential, urgent emergency, that will take place during the current restrictions should be prefaced “Essential works under COVID-19 guidance” in the works description field of the associated notice in the Scottish Road Works Register.


Energy work defined as essential includes:

  • critical maintenance work being carried out to repair faults or outages at gas or electricity substations, or in pipes and power lines
  • energy network replacement or refurbishment projects which are critical to the safe and secure operation of the system in the short to medium term
  • maintenance or new works essential for the critical day to day running of power generation plants and onshore and offshore oil and gas infrastructure 

All other energy construction works should be considered non-essential, for example, new build electricity substation and generation projects not due to commission or export within the next 12 months.

Essential and time-critical maintenance and repairs

Projects, in addition to those specified above, that ensure key critical facilities continue to function safely, and maintain essential levels of utility for their users are also considered essential in this context. 

Where projects can be safely concluded at a later point they should be. 

Essential projects include:

  • operation and essential maintenance of elements of national public, private and business infrastructure which are essential for the containment and treatment of the virus and the distribution of food, essential supplies, utilities and communications to households
  • the essential repair or maintenance or operation of critical infrastructure including: energy (electricity and gas) generation, transmission (including distribution) and supply; water treatment and networks; and telecom/broadband networks. These works will be required to ensure near-term network security
  • the essential repair, maintenance, operation or decommissioning of oil and gas critical infrastructure (including supply chain services as required for these activities) for safe exploration, appraisal and production to ensure long term energy resilience and security of supply.
  • the essential maintenance of facilities being used to deliver essential services or manufacture and deliver essential goods
  • the essential maintenance and repair (but not improvement) of buildings including private homes and commercial properties. Routine maintenance should be deferred.

However, any such project can only continue operating if it can comply with the guidance on the safety and welfare of the workforce and the public. 

Any site unable to meet these requirements must cease operations.

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.
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