Are Ready to Build For Future Generations

This weeks’ challenge to Welsh construction was made by Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales; we have an abridged version of her speech that outlines the challenge and potential role for Welsh construction.

Monday 28th November 2016

When the Well-being of Future Generations Act was passed in 2015, the UN said that they hoped ‘what Wales was doing today, the world would do tomorrow’. The legislation is both internationally ground-breaking and game-changing, and the world’s eyes are on us now to not only talk the talk of the Act but walk the walk. What’s more there is central for Welsh construction to play in the delivery of that walk. 

After the UN’s comment, the second, less quoted part of that speech is that ‘actions more than words, is the hope for future generations’, and that is where I see the challenge for you and for your industry; building today for the Wales we want tomorrow, and for future generations to come. It will be your actions, and the lead that you take throughout the construction sector, to embed the spirit of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, through the reduction in raw material consumption, waste production, of moving us towards a low-carbon, resilient society, of providing secure and well-paid jobs, and of building well-connected environments for everyone in Wales that improves our lives and enhances our well-being. 

The Act defines sustainable development as ‘improving the way we achieve our economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being.’ I have been very clear in my initial engagements with Chief Executives, with the Public Service Boards and with the Welsh Government – that this is not just another piece of legislation – that this is the catalyst for culture change, throughout the public sector and for everything we do here in Wales.  

Now I'm guessing in the construction sector you heave a collective sigh of frustration at more legislation and regulations to comply with. I'm afraid I can't tell you that you won't need to comply with this - if you work with the public sector they will be seeking for you to demonstrate this.  However, what I would say is compliance should not be king.   I'd urge you to see yourselves as part of the solution to the problem; of understanding, what the government and the public sector are trying to achieve, but on challenging them to do it better. When I came into post someone described my role as a constructive disruptor, I therefore pose the challenge to you to become 'constructive construction disruptors'. 

My office is working with Welsh Government to look at how the £5.5 billion that the Welsh public sector spends annually on works, goods and services can be spent in a way that contributes to wider economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being in Wales. The Wales Procurement Policy statement seems to say all the right things, Value Wales have developed a range of tools to help the public sector to consider sustainability issues, community benefits, and supply chains, however we are not able to demonstrate what contribution the £5.5 billion makes to a more prosperous, resilient or healthier Wales. 

My office is also currently working closely with Transport for Wales who are leading the procurement process for the Metro and rail franchise. They have recognized that the Act can provide a framework to guide their work and have been keen to integrate the five ways of working and the seven well-being goals into the process from the outset. Through the competitive dialogue process the four main bidders have been encouraged to seek solutions that contribute to the seven well-being goals. 

In relation to carbon budgets, future infrastructure programmes will need to support the move to a low-carbon economy and society and support decarbonisation in Wales. The targets in the Environment Act are for reducing emissions by 80% by 2050, although there is a mounting body of evidence that suggests that this needs to happen much sooner. We need to look at how our transport systems, housing and built environment are going to support the achievement of these targets. 

How we can build upon the work of 21st century schools, to build institutions that are fit for the future, that engage with young people, and boost educational attainment today whilst providing a facility for the wider community to benefit from? How we can build transport links that allow those without cars to get to work, to drop their kids off at school, and to reach the local shops. How can you, and the work that you and your sector do, apply the five ways of working and maximize your contribution to all seven of the well-being goals? 

And it's worth looking at the definition of these goals, their descriptors shine a light on what we really need to do. Take for example, the definition of a ‘prosperous Wales’ we are striving for: ‘an innovative, productive and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment and therefore uses resources efficiently and proportionately (including acting on climate change); and which develops a skilled and well-educated population in an economy which generates wealth and provides employment opportunities.’ This is quite a shift from the traditional approach to economic development – nowhere in there is there a mention of GDP or GVA - and to deliver this vision we will need to think about the economy in the context of social, environmental, and cultural well-being. It allows us to take inspiration from innovative thinkers across the world, to not only build for a Wales for the here and now, but to really consider the Wales we will have in five, ten, or even fifty years. 

How can your supply chains and ways of working support a more resilient Wales? Where the way we go about procurement supports biodiversity and healthy, resilient ecosystems, moving beyond looking at recycling and recyclability of materials and thinking about the impact of all raw materials in our supply chain and their potential vulnerability? How can you work collaboratively with the public sector to deliver upon a healthier Wales? As this cannot be the sole responsibility of the NHS and our health boards – how can the houses, schools, hospitals and environments that you construct help not hinder the well-being of an individual in Wales?   How are your supply chains and contracts contributing to a more equal Wales? Supply chains are long and full of unexpected vulnerabilities, are you looking to support better employment conditions? And how much are you helping to support safe, well-connected and cohesive communities? Are you looking to embed green infrastructure at the heart of the Wales we want? To what extent are you providing a living network of green spaces?   How are you looking to support a Wales of vibrant culture, heritage and Welsh language, and how are you building for a future that caters for the changing demographics of Wales? 

And finally, to what extent is your organisation globally responsible? It is simply not enough to reap the rewards of globalisation, we are not just global consumers but global citizens, and we must ensure that our responsible approach to construction reflects this thinking. 

Your sector has a key role to play in building environments that reflect the reality of the lives that people lead, and communities that enhance the lives and well-being of everyone here in Wales, today and for future generations.