Brexit is moving UK from client status into the supply chain

There have been many, and there will be many ‘what Brexit means for …’ articles, blogs and opinions. Here is my take on how I see the impact for the built  environment and sustainability. It is a blog post that I started on June 24th, but with each passing day, hour, a new twist has emerged …

flag_yellow_lowFar from dust settling after the EU Referendum that saw ‘Leave’ gain a slender majority, we are seeing more dust being kicked up from the daily political, financial and environmental developments. What all this means for the built environment, as many organisations are telling me in emails, tweets and statements is unclear and remains to be seen. It is still unbelievable that political and industry organisations and companies did not and still do not really have a plan in the case of an out vote, and what the implications of triggering Article 50 would entail.

What we see however is the UK on the brink of a self inflicted move from client, or framework prime contractor status to supply chain status and all the implications that would bring. No longer would we be setting the trading and governance conditions but having to negotiate, and ultimately comply.

And with the mature supply chain conditions that most in the built environment are now familiar with, this entails, fair, ethical , equitable and environmentally sound practices and governance across an organisation. Practices that are not only limited to the goods or services provided to a client (in this case the EU) but across all operations.

And the pandora’s box of potential implications, a few good but mostly disastrous in the short term, we now face in the built environment include …

A continuation of OJEU – the EU tendering and procurement process. (an Housing Association pre-referendum article foresaw this as a possibility , to ensure open access to contracts as a good ethical and fair trading practice)

Compliance with EU environmental standards, such as air quality and the Near Zero Buildings directive. Although many of the EU environmental issues have, over time been incorporated into e.g. Building Regs, as a government we have fought most EU environmental legislation, particularly air quality regulations. Boris Johnson, described as Trump-Lite in his approach to the environment, has been accused of withholding failing air quality statistics in London schools, hampering any real improvement. Now, to trade with EU it is highly likely that air quality thresholds will be an imposed condition in light of the recent statements from EU officials that they remain committed to protecting health and wellbeing of all European citizens.

Uncertainty and worry questions the free movement of skills, talent and people on which the built environment has thrived. Free movement of skills has been vital for construction on site, in Architectural practices, Environmental consultancies, Universities and other research organisations. Even BIM, which through free movement of IT talent, many of whom based in London and created the innovative IT hub, that has helped us become a BIM world leader. Not surprisingly there are warnings that IT and multi-i organisations will seek more EU centric locations, for example Berlin, relocating away from London and the UK.

Indications are that we will see short and long term price increases in construction materials. 60% of all imported construction materials come from the EU. Exported services will be expected at a lower cost which may prove to be unviable.  Imported timber, increasingly the structural material of choice – will be subject to trade and cost implications This should of course bolster Grown in Britain timber, but that itself may well be subject to wider EU trading implications – as a supply chain would be expected to do so to demonstrate good governance and ecological considerations.

The construction industry is often the barometer for the health of the economy – and hence a prelude for a recession. It requires amongst other factors, strong confidence in a pipeline of work flow. That pipeline had slowed pre referendum, with a number of contracts having Brexit clauses, and now, post referendum in some cases (e.g. infrastructure projects) come to (a temporary) stop. With the value of construction organisations being reduced, so will funds available for innovation, investments in new technologies (digital and BIM) and crucial for the industry, education, training and development.

On a wider macro sustainability level, leaving the EU risks weakening efforts to protect human rights, tackle corruption, environmental destruction and climate change, all which require a collaborative effort with our neighbours. I have already heard “that as FSC is a EU Legislation requirement we can now use unsustainably sourced timber?”

Facing all of these potential implications, never before in the sector have we needed our modern day, mature approaches to improving the built environment. These include lean construction, a diverse and ethical sector, collaboration not silo’d isolation, sound training and development, BIM, and a restorative sustainability approach that is not weakened to doing even less just to reduce the built environments sustainability impact.  

At the same time we need to speed up the incorporation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as the sectors sustainability mission.Chart_of_UN_Sustainable_Development_Goals

Far from taking back control, we may be handing over what control we had as we take a new position within the supply chain. But then … who knows what will occur, if and when and by whom article 50 is ever triggered.

So what now? The Brexit debate has moved from the binary referendum to a complex cocktail of political issues. It is possible we will see a snap election, less likely the called for 2nd referendum, but we will have new leaders of our main parliamentary parties and debates that focus not only the future of the EU but the UK itself. All will have huge impacts for the built environment.

As individuals we have avenues to register our concerns, through social media advocacy, through our institutions and membership organisations, through the call for a 2nd referendum, and as this is now a political issue through MP lobbying.

We should also see a step up in appropriate lobbying from built environment groups – now is not the time to wait and see, now is the time for groups such as RIBA, CIOB, CE, UKGBC, CIBSE, ICE, IEMA etc etc … to mobilise, be proactive and lobby government, potential party leaders and MP’s with responsibilities within the built environment spectrum, to protect our industry and all the wonderful progress made through union with the EU.

This blog is my view of the post referendum uncertainty, an interpretation from experience and knowledge of the sector, but undoubtedly also informed through reading many many articles, blogs and tweets, too many to reference here at the moment, but also worth reading are:

For a US perspective, Lloyd Alter: What impact will Brexit have on green building in Britain?

Understanding Article 50: David Allen Green  This is what sovereignty looks like

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Towards low carbon construction IGT Report: Government Response

Snippets from todays launch of the Governments Response to the  industry’s Innovation Growth Team Report:

Business Minister Mark Prisk said:

“An efficient, effective and profitable construction industry is at the heart of any growing economy.

“Meeting the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon will affect every aspect of the built environment and has the potential to provide the construction industry with a 40 year programme of work creating great opportunities for growth in the sector.

“Through this joint Government and industry action plan we are making a clear commitment to the low carbon transition which will create the certainty needed for construction companies to invest in essential new skills, processes and products.”

Climate Change and Energy Minister Greg Barker said:

“Improving the energy efficiency of the nation’s buildings is a win-win response to tackling emissions and spiralling fuel costs.

“The Government’s Green Deal will radically transform the energy efficiency of our homes and businesses, and presents a massive opportunity for Britain’s construction industry.

Government Chief Construction Advisor Paul Morrell said:

“I am delighted that the Government has taken on board so many of the recommendations from the IGT report which was developed with expertise from across industry.

“To ensure that construction rises to the low carbon challenge we need to continue this new level of cooperation so I am also pleased that a joint Government and industry board has been set up to ensure implementation of this plan.”

Influence of Construction 

A copy of the Government’s response to the Low Carbon Construction Innovation and Growth Team Report can be found at: http://www.bis.gov.uk/constructionigt

 

Info from the News Distribution Centre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Government Construction Strategy – have we been here before?

The Government have recently published its Construction Strategy, aiming to address

… widespread acknowledgement across Government and within industry – backed by recent studies – that the UK does not get full value from public sector construction; and that it has failed to exploit the potential for public procurement of construction and infrastructure projects to drive growth.

This strategy changes that. It calls for a profound change in the relationship between public authorities and the construction industry to ensure the Government consistently gets a good deal and the country gets the social and economic infrastructure it needs for the long-term.

However, on a first few readings of the paper I find it un-inspiring and not representative of the current era for the built environment. With the possible exception of a luke warm, suck it and see approach to BIM there is very little in the strategy that we havent seen before in strategies, white papers and policy documents.  A wasted opportunity?

In an era of joined up thinking, collaborative and integrated working it would have been good to see this a built environment strategy, rather than continue the silo thinking of treating construction as a stand alone.

It is therefore disappointing to see that facilities management would appear to have been downgraded to asset management, and although the paper recognises the importance of a whole life thinking approach, it is a view from a building as an asset, a product,  rather than a facility that enables business.

Post-handover defects are a regular feature of construction projects, leading to the cost of remediation (and frequently the higher cost of resolving disputes). Even when there are no latent defects, it is still rare to find that a built asset performs exactly in accordance with its design criteria (and particularly in terms of energy efficiency, for example).

Integration of the design and construction of an asset with the operation phase should lead to improved asset performance. This has been demonstrated in projects which have integrated design and construction with whole-life operation. The same alignment can be created by requiring those who design and construct buildings to prove their operational performance for a period of say three to five years. Proposals for this will be developed with the Government Property Unit to ensure alignment with subsequent arrangements for facilities management.

The 3 – 5 year proving period has been suggested and trialed before – back as I recall in the mid 1990’s as part of the Building Down Barriers programme. And way way back in 1934 Alfred Bosom was saying the same thing (” our production costs are some 30% higher than they should be due to bad building layout”)

The strategy rightly sees procurement as a barrier, but the approach is

To develop a range of overarching procurement strategies appropriate to the whole programme.

Hmmm, havent we been doing that since Latham ? We now have PAS91 which the strategy calls to be better embedded, but to develop even more ….?

And on sustainability

To deliver future carbon reductions in the Government estate through the procurement of new construction, for example by developing approaches to appraising construction projects on a whole life carbon basis including embodied carbon, and working with departments and industry to deliver existing and emerging Strategy for Sustainable Construction targets.

but for the detail action plan and targets we have to wait for the governments response to the IGT Low Carbon Construction Report

Not sure if it is a mistake or not, but note the approach to reducing carbon is through  the procurement of new construction – not all construction – ie is it omitting refurbishment of existing property?

I didn’t expect the strategy to be explicit on social media, but I would have liked to seen communications addressed. Communication, or lack of, are at the root of most of construction problems. As we are seeing the increased use of ICT, Web Technology and yes, Social Media, in other Government sectors it would have been good to see it put on the radar for construction.

Also missing from a forward looking strategy is the need to address diversity – not only in gender, but in age, abilities, ethnicity etc. Without diverse views, opinions and approaches we will continue with our mono-centric approach.  The Government can act as a real role model and driver for construction here. As Einstein said – we cannot fix today’s problems with the same kind of thinking that created them! 

Read the paper here: Government-Construction-Strategy


a transition view of the uk transition housing plan

A welcomed and important perspective on the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan was posted by Rob Hopkins on the Transition blog:

lowcarbonplancover

After many months of Ed Milliband putting himself out there are a Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change that actually gets climate change, finally his big Plan, the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan was unveiled on Wednesday, in a speech in the House of Commons that name checked Transition Towns and which is the boldest national vision for a low carbon society yet seen.  Many others have since pitched in with their thoughts, I thought it might be useful here to offer an analysis from a Transition perspective.  In his speech, Milliband said “we know from the Transition Towns movement the power of community action to motivate people..”, clearly an outcome of his attendance as a ‘Keynote Listener’ at the Transition Network conference in May. So how does the Plan measure up, and does it actually advance what Transition initiatives and the wider relocalisation movement are doing?

On Housing (of particular interest here) Rob Comments:

tpcommThe Plan restates 2016 of the date by which all new housing will be zero carbon, which is entirely laudable, although Wales has actually managed to introduce this 5 years earlier, by 2011.  It might have provided a good push to this had it been brought forward to, say, 2014. Much of this part of the report is as you would imagine, but it does contain the intriguing statement that “the Government is investing up to £6 million to construct 60 more low carbon affordable homes built with innovative, highly insulating, renewable materials”.

Does this mean that there is now £6 million for hands-on research into straw bale, hemp construction, earth plasters and so on?

Or does ‘highly insulating, renewable materials’ refer to Kingspan and other industrial oil-derived building materials?

At the moment ‘zero carbon homes’ refers only to a building’s performance once built, not the embodied energy of the materials it contains.

The role of local and natural materials in strengthening local economies is key.

My Comment: it is these points that need a wider, open and urgent debate as raised in a previous blog item here. If zero carbon is the solution what was the question? and are we defining zero carbon with enough insight?

Rob scores the Plan as follows:

Addressing Peak Oil:  1 out of 10.

Energy: 7 out of 10.

Transport 4 out of 10

Housing: 6 out of 10

Community involvement: 2 out of 10

Food and Farming: 1 out of 10

and Overall : 6 out of 10


sustainable resources and publications update

Items of interest to built environment + natural environment + sustainable communities filtered from the Sustainability Development Research Network (SDRN) update

Engaging Places
A new initiative has been launched by CABE and English Heritage to help every school exploit the world’s biggest teaching resource; ‘Engaging Places’ will champion and support teaching and learning through the whole built environment, from grand historic buildings to the streets and neighbourhoods where we live. Great web resource here

Creating green jobs: developing local low-carbon economies
This publication outlines measures to help create 150 000 new jobs in the low carbon economy – jobs that help save carbon, reduce fuel poverty, increase our energy security and build resilience in those areas at greatest risk from climate change. A must read document.

Policy Exchange Report – ‘Warm Homes’
This report argues that Government efforts to improve energy efficiency in the existing housing stock have been slow and expensive. The grants available are too complicated to administer and have had to be applied for on household-by-household basis, with those that do wish to upgrade required to cover a large part of the upfront costs. This has resulted in millions of homes not applying for the grants to which they are eligible and those unable to find the cash for upfront installation costs being excluded. In addition, such a variety of organisations are responsible for the delivery of energy efficiency improvements, including the Warm Front Scheme and the Energy Saving Trust, that effective joined-up action is prevented and the costs of bureaucracy increased. To quickly install basic energy efficiency measures in every household that needs them, ‘Warm Homes’ suggests that the structures of energy efficiency finance and delivery have to change and makes recommendations of how to achieve this. More…

Comfort in a Lower Carbon Society
The January edition of Building Research and Information includes a set of five commentaries on the earlier special issue ‘Comfort in a Lower Carbon Society’. The commentaries examine from different perspectives the opportunities, barriers and potential for significant carbon reductions through changing the social expectations and behaviours for what constitutes thermal comfort. The heating and cooling of buildings consumes a significant proportion of energy in developed countries and the trajectory of consumption continues to rise. Given that developed countries have a large and slowly growing building stock (less than 2% per annum), technical solutions to upgrading the building stock will take a substantial period of time. Altering societies’ behaviour and expectations surrounding the consumption of ‘comfort’ – specifically through how much heating and cooling we require – presents an important opportunity for lowering energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. Commentaries are written by Jim Skea, Mithra Moezzi, Harold Wilhite, Russell Hitchings, and Ian Cooper. More…

Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty
A new coalition of leading UK environmental and social justice groups, convened by Oxfam and the new economics foundation (nef) and including Friends of the Earth and the Royal College of Nursing, has released a report – ‘Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty’ – showing that tackling climate change actually offers a huge opportunity to boost the economy and tackle UK poverty at the same time. The report shows how the need to combat climate change could present a huge opportunity to tackle poverty too. Key recommendations include: increasing household energy efficiency, reducing both emissions and fuel poverty; planning for an equitable transition to a low carbon economy (paving the way for the UK to capitalise on the opportunities and reap the benefits of the new low-carbon economy including the creation of new ‘green collar’ jobs; promoting sustainable public service provision, including low carbon food procurement for hospitals and schools; improving the existing housing stock (moving towards low carbon design in housing and urban development); and investing in a public transport system, which is better for the environment and more equitable. More…

Natural England Draft Policy – ‘All Landscapes Matter’
Natural England is leading on the implementation of the European Landscape Convention (ELC) in England.  This document sets out their detailed policy for working with and through England’s landscapes as an integrating framework for managing change and raising the quality of all landscapes and the benefits they provide, whether they are rural, urban or coastal, ordinary or outstanding. Key policies highlighted consider: landscape management, protection and planning; dynamic and evolving landscapes; landscape as an integrating framework; European Landscape Convention; valuing landscape; landscape, design and development; European and International context; Landscape Character Areas; and landscape monitoring. Natural England is keen to hear views on this draft policy, and invite written comments until the 13th March 2009More…

Community development in local authorities
This new report from CDF examines how community development teams are structured in local authorities. Findings are amalgamated from discussions with a number of local authorities, together with findings from a more formal process of investigation. It attempts to give practice-based insights and intelligence about the role of community development teams. It looks at different structural models and the key factors that help community development, and therefore the voice of the community, to have an impact. This report is part of an ongoing project and the final section poses questions for those currently engaged in developing CD within their local authority. More…


More @ SDRN 


Reducing the environmental impact of existing non-domestic buildings

Addressing the existing uk building stock and in particular non domestic stock is mush talked about – but unlike housing not too much action as yet.

The All Party Urban Development Group is undertaking its latest inquiry, exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact of existing non-domestic buildings that are concentrated in our city centres and business districts. It will examine:

  • improving energy efficiency of existing urban buildings;
  • barriers to reducing emissions from urban buildings; and
  • the policy initiatives needed – including regulation, fiscal incentives, penalties and educational campaigns – to address these barriers effectively

More talk – or start of something with teeth?

There is also a Call for Evidence.