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Planning for the future

BSRIA’s recent White Paper, entitled Achieving Carbon Targets and Bridging the Skills Gap, has laid out a clear strategy to take the built environment forward

Across Europe, countries are setting targets for CO2 emissions, some as high as 80 per cent reduction by 2050. Buildings account for around 40 per cent of all energy consumption and around 80 per cent of the buildings we will use in 2050 have already been built.

The UK is typical of many European countries.

Lack of a single governmental point of contact and a long-term strategy leads to confusion and instability.

Lack of a holistic view of buildings and their place in the wider built environment will perpetrate a continuation of operations in siloes and un-coordinated processes.

A richer pool of ideas and solutions could be found by studying examples and best practice from other countries.

There is insufficient stimulus from government and a lack of recognition of the engineering trade. Our schools are ranked for the number of students they get into university, not the number they get onto apprenticeships.

And yet, the construction industry needs all types of skills and offers all types of potential careers.

A question still to be answered is; How can the value of buildings be improved in order to raise productivity and wellbeing for their occupiers, reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions while generating new revenue streams for suppliers?

Responding to this, BSRIA held a 60th anniversary executive Diamond Group discussion and dinner in London on 17 June 2015 to address these issues and to discuss how government can help industry to achieve these goals.

The discussion was opened by BSRIA CEO Julia Evans with facilitated active debate and networking.

Managing the workshop was Tracey Tilbry, BSRIA networks and events manager, and a summary of conclusions from the three groups were presented by Jeremy Towler, BSRIA senior manager for energy and smart technology.

The participants were divided into three groups, with mixed representation of different UK building trades.

What does our industry need from government to deliver and achieve the carbon targets over the next ten years?

The groups were unanimous that government can help and the main tools at its disposal are legislation, regulation, incentives and sponsorship.

Our industry will be aided through the establishment of clear policy, clear and uncomplicated legislation, and more regulation.

However, there are currently too many different government departments dictating policy. Instead, the industry supports the creation of a single government department with which it can interface.

This will help to reduce contradiction and confusion.

Long-term stability and strategy

Government needs to take a long-term strategic view to provide stability into the future. It needs to engage with the big issues such as energy generation and infrastructure.


The country should also study examples and standards from other European countries to learn more about what works and what does not and identify best practice which could be adopted in the UK.

Take a holistic view

More attention needs to be given to the lifecycle in operation of low-carbon assets and more thought needs to be given to achieving a better balance between legislation around different aspects of the built environment. For example, legislation has tended to focus on building insulation, without considering its resulting impact on indoor air quality and overheating of buildings in summer which then drives the need to expend energy on more mechanical ventilation and cooling.

Expanding the Display Energy Certificate (DEC) requirements will drive change in terms of building performance. But it is not just about energy efficiency – health and wellbeing should be assessed. By placing emphasis on total carbon consumption, government could promote communities that reduce total travel.

Legislate and regulate

To drive energy efficiency forward, government should legislate on energy consumption in buildings and consider financial penalties for non-compliance. A good example of legislation in practice is that around the use of condensing boilers, whereby they quickly became the principal type of boiler sold after their installation was legislated.

However, the track record of government is more often one of diluted policy.

Examples of this include legislation for feed-in tariffs (FITs), The Green Deal, and air-conditioning inspection reports.

Notwithstanding, heritage and listed buildings present a particular challenge, for example in terms of planning consistency, building control and change of use.

Regulation creates a more level playing field for builders, which in turn stimulates more competition.

Carbon targets and the skills gap

Regulation is currently viewed as the minimum standard people need to achieve. Government should tax poor performance and provide subsidies to encourage best performance and the use of best low-carbon technologies.

The overall value of improving existing buildings has the potential to far outweigh the contribution from energy efficient new buildings.

Therefore, incentives should be given for refurbishment of the existing building stock. At the same time, measures that link non-compliance with regulations to insurance penalties would also help to improve the situation.

The majority of UK homes still have outdated heating control equipment. There is not only a lack of education among homeowners; there is a lack of encouragement to upgrade their systems.

A quick-win would be to incentivise residential thermostat replacement.

Invest in skills

There is wide recognition that we need more investment in training and skills. The government could help with sponsorship of training.

Devolve responsibility

Finally, cities and towns should have the power to independently implement local environmental standards and make changes to them whenever they choose. This could be achieved by delegating responsibility, within a framework, to local areas.

Visit www.bsria.co.uk to read the full report 

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