Built Environment 2021

We asked Robert Chapman, one of CEWales most active members and supporters, to give us his views on what 2021 might hold for the industry

When I was asked by Constructing Excellence in Wales to offer some thoughts on the year ahead there were so many ideas buzzing in my head it felt quite daunting. What is so complicated about such a question? I needed some context and hit up on this:

Construction is central to placemaking, economic development and UK employment, and the sector spend is estimated to be £500 billion by the end of this decade’’. 

This was a view expressed by the Chair of the Institute for Economic Development when talking about a major construction industry research report published last Summer. I agree.

In Wales, construction is the 5th largest industry, directly employing 8.2% of the Welsh population and making a tangible contribution to the economy. That said, I suggest the sector should avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ vis-à-vis ‘Build, Build, Build’ (I prefer the WGBC strapline ‘Building a Better Future’) and should do more to adopt a culture which avoids construction disputes, facilitates inclusion & diversity, and enhances safety.

With that in mind I’ve picked out five areas that our industry must focus on this year.

1. COP26:

Encouragingly for the construction sector (following a representation from the World Green Building Council, C40 Cities, UN Global Alliance for Building and Construction, The Climate Group, Mission 2020, WBCSD, We Mean Business, UKGBC Green Building Council Italia, and World Resources Institute) Sharma has asked this group to draw a spotlight on the sector to champion progress and highlight green recovery solutions. This acknowledges that action to decarbonise the buildings and construction sector is critical to meeting the UK contribution to the Paris Agreement goals. COP needs to get us to 1.5 degrees temperature rise. This is about shaping and taking proactive actions for the next decade. It is not about what is possible, but what is necessary.

2. Procurement:

Procurement should be a Boardroom function, not a backroom function. But it appears that things are changing which can only be a good thing because procurement drives behaviours. Buying for value rather than cost should become the norm with ‘value for money’ being considered in the widest sense including the delivery of better outcomes and value.  The national TOMS for Wales approach are essentially a toolkit to measure outcomes against the themes of the Well Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and provides a new tool which will help the public sector to include these elements in the tender processes and evaluations in practice. More needs to be done though to enhance competency capabilities to deliver expectations.

3. Retrofitting:

Much is made of new development, yet 80% of buildings in 2050 have already been built, so a major priority is decarbonising our existing stock. That is why I laud the success of James Williams at Sero (and his team) for the remarkable collaboration of 68 partners, including 26 social housing providers to decarbonise 1,370 pathfinder homes. Think of the number of homes in Wales that need to be retrofitted?

4. Technology:

After financial services, the construction industry generates the largest amount of data of any sector. A key challenge for the construction profession is how it uses this data to improve what is delivered. Despite the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things industry, estimates suggest that up to 95% of construction industry data is not used but wasted.

5. Leadership:

This is NOW more important than ever and can manifest itself in different guises. For example: the various Welsh construction fora; Mark Farmer (Offsite construction); Bristol City Council’s modular homes scheme; Landsec’s net zero Timber Square development; ICE President Rachel Skinner’s push for net zero carbon for infrastructure and the Better Building Partnerships continued good work.

In conclusion, the construction sector has impact. Good practice is the way forward during what is a challenging period ahead, but there are opportunities.

My question to the construction industry is simply this: is there an appetite to lead (‘modernise or die’) and provide hope by ‘Building a Better Future’ (because time is of the essence)?

Let us know what you think please? These are just my ideas and the tip of the iceberg. A fuller version of this article will be available on the CE Wales web site shortly. If you have any comments on this article please contact the team info@cewales.org.uk