Election 2019: Construction for Future Generations?

Construction is on the front pages again as political debates heat up, but we must not lose sight of why we need to build things and the impact we have on the environment and society as we do so, argues Paul Maliphant of Mott MacDonald

The 2019 general election is developing into a bidding war on public spending with construction and infrastructure capital projects being at the forefront of heated political debate, claim and counter claim.  Perhaps Constructing Excellence should be excited about this as it has the potential to benefit every part of the sector supply chain that it represents.  This is good news isn’t it?  Maybe.

Why only maybe?  Well we must not forget the primary driving forces that should inform all our construction activity namely:

  • To positively respond to the impact that humanity is having on earth, ocean and atmospheric processes and the planets ability to sustain resources and species for future generations; and
  • To maximise societal, community and individual economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being.

Key to capital spending plans in light of these twin imperatives is to consider with care and focus both what we invest in and how we design, construct and maintain it prior to ultimate reuse and/or recycling.  Indeed, we should at the outset consider whether such capital should be spent on new buildings and infrastructure or making much better use of the vast volume of built assets that we already have much of which requires significant upgrade to meet current challenges.

We need sustainable construction based on full circular economy considerations as a fundamental part of delivering sustainable economic growth.  Central to this is developing investment plans on the basis of the opportunities that are before us, the global challenges we face, and full consideration of the outcomes that we are seeking to achieve.  It is these outcomes that we should invest in, champion and procure and it is to be anticipated that construction and new infrastructure will have its place. 

But construction should not be progressed at the expense of not delivering on what society actually needs in support of all current and future generations.  And there is also a need for both commercial and political honesty on what our industry can deliver. 

Have we all the skilled people we need? If not, how long will it take to train or retrain them?

Do we have sufficient resources such as equipment and materials to deliver the volume of investment that is being promised? 

If we push against the limits of sector capacity what will happen to inflationary pressures and both short- and longer-term fiscal cost? 

Indeed, do we also truly understand how to change market behaviours to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved?  Change is best achieved not by trying to force the issue but seeking to create the environment where markets, organisations and people will want to change and be empowered to champion continuous improvement to deliver on what all our people need.  And we need a planet fit for all future generations and a focus on well-being for all.  If we get this right, then ‘maybe’ will become an enthusiastic ‘yes’!