Taylor Wimpey and Aston Martin to restart work next month

Aston Martin St Autan

One of Britain’s biggest housebuilding companies has announced that it will restart work on its construction sites in just over a week’s time, amid growing signs that the economy is slowly starting to reopen.

Taylor Wimpey is the first big housebuilder to announce its return to business. The luxury carmaker Aston Martin will also restart its St Athan factory in south Wales (pictured above) in the first week of May.

Both companies stopped work last month because of the pandemic, but say they can restart operations by putting in place social-distancing measures.

Pressure is mounting on the government to announce the first steps towards lifting the lockdown and allowing more businesses to get back to work.

Senior Tories have warned that prolonging the restrictions risks putting tens of thousands of companies out of business and inflicting serious damage on the economy.

Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical officer, suggested last night that disruptive social measures will have to be in place in the UK until at least the end of the year.

Conservative backbenchers are urging the government to allow some businesses to reopen if they can ensure that social-distancing measures remain in place.

The devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland have suggested they will follow a separate approach to ministers in Westminster.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, is preparing to publish her plan for lifting the restrictions later today. Arlene Foster, the Northern Irish first minister, suggested last night that Northern Ireland could emerge from the lockdown at a faster pace than other parts of the UK.

“You could well see different parts of the United Kingdom move in different time to other parts,” Ms Foster told Cool FM. “We also have our own advisory group here in Northern Ireland and our own chief medical officer.”

Taylor Wimpey was the first housebuilder to close its sites last month. Pete Redfern, its chief executive, said the company was now “confident” it could resume work safely.

“Our first priority is always the health and safety of our customers, employees, sub-contractors and suppliers,” he said. “We took an early decision at the end of March to close our sites while we assessed in detail how to build homes without compromising on health and safety or quality.

“We are now confident that we have clear plans and processes in place so we can safely start back on site in a phased way, beginning on May 4.”

Aston Martin said that work at St Athan would begin on May 5, while following public health guidelines to protect workers’ safety. Its Gaydon site in Warwickshire will reopen later this year.

The St Athan factory, opened last year after the redevelopment of an old aircraft superhangar, is key to the future of the luxury sports carmaker as it is dedicated to the assembly of its new DBX model, Aston Martin’s first SUV.

The Aston Martin decision marks the latest step in the slow return to work by the British automotive industry.

Bentley Motors has said workers will start returning to work on May 11 and full production at its plant in Crewe will begin a week later. Bentley employs 4,000 people and last year produced 11,000 vehicles.

Meanwhile, some food outlets that stopped taking orders last month have had a surge in demand after reopening a small number of outlets.

KFC and Burger King were inundated with customers after reopening more than a dozen restaurants for delivery at various locations across the country.

Pret-a-Manger, the sandwich chain, has also reopened ten outlets near hospitals for a takeaway service while Five Guys, the burger chain, plans to add a further seven stores to the 13 that have traded throughout the outbreak.

Under the existing rules all restaurants are allowed to be open for delivery or takeaway services, but cannot let customers eat in.

KFC said it had taken the “careful decision” initially to reopen 17 of its 900 restaurants, which will offer a “limited menu” to help kitchen staff to maintain social distance.

Pret-a-Manger said it had opened the stores near hospitals after requests from NHS workers, although all customers are allowed to make purchases.

Other businesses have gradually begun to reopen. B&Q, the DIY chain, has started allowing customers to visit a small number of stores after a successful trial of social-distancing measures at the weekend. Until now the company has only been operating a click-and-collect service.

Meanwhile, parts of Britain appeared to be inching back to life yesterday as drivers reported more traffic on the roads.

Although no official data has yet been published, drivers and nearby residents went online to report that local roads and motorways, including the M25, M5, M6 and M4, were all busier on Wednesday than they have been for several weeks.

At the 10 Downing Street daily press conference yesterday, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, refused to be drawn on when or how lockdown measures may be eased.

“As the transmission rate comes down, we need more data to inform the measures we can accurately consider. We want to make sure we have that data before we tout around ideas and then not be able to deliver them or risk a second spike,” he said.