Monthly Archives: March 2013

Can “the UK Construction Sector” speak with one voice to lobby effectively for more funding in the 20 March Budget?

‘The construction sector in the UK does not speak with one voice, and fails to lobby effectively in the run up to both the Budget and the Autumn Statement.’ This was said in confidence by a senior HM Treasury official to me and others this week.
The construction sector is responsible for 8% of UK GDP and employment. Yet too often we see housebuilders pitched against product manufacturers (eg expensive window frames), architects pitched against housebuilders (eg poor design standards), clients pitched against architects (eg low collaboration skills), and product manufacturers pitched against clients (eg inability to plan orders beyond next week). Not a happy circle. I exaggerate, but not so much.

A Lobby Is Needed
There is clearly a major political battle underway within the UK government leading up to the Budget on 20 March on whether to restore or even increase public sector capital budgets for economic and social infrastructure (eg flood defences, social housing) which would be funded by extra borrowing through government bonds.
Whatever the reasons are for the reported failure of the construction sector to lobby effectively so far, it is not due in my view to any shortage of the various national construction bodies, boards, councils, associations and suchlike.
But frankly speaking, maybe some big and prickly egos have to just stand together now and speak with one voice for the greater good.

Psychobabble: a book which is better than its title might suggest

The writer of this book is a practising psychologist, and I found his reflections on the various recent ‘popular myths’ in the busy world of self-help and personal development to be a breath of fresh air.
It may seem a paradox: a paperback on psychology having a pop at all the other popular paperbacks on self-development. But bear with him, as I think he has a very healthy and grounded approach to life. He reminds us of the need for compassion, forgiveness and mindfulness when some of the strident writers are just piling on the pressure.
Each fashionable myth is covered in a short chapter, 23 in all, covering all the current pressures, from “whatever the problem, CBT is the answer” to NLP’s “there is no failure, only feedback”, to “think positive and be a winner”.
Clearly there is hunger for self-development and spiritual growth, and this book I find is a useful antidote to some of the quick-fix books which actually can make matters worse. Reference:
Psychobabble: exploring the myths of the self-help generation. Dr Stephen Briers (2012) Pearson Education Ltd.

UK Green Construction Board has published a ‘routemap’ for lower CO2 emissions, saying technical solutions alone will not be enough #MACF2013

The built environment is causing one-third of the problem in climate change. There is a plan to reduce this figure, and this is summarised today (5 March) by a report by the Green Construction Board showing how the built environment needs to do far more than it is currently if the UK as a whole can hope to meet the target of 80% less carbon emissions by 2050.

The report is called a Low Carbon ‘Routemap’ for the Built Environment. In short, they conclude that,

“It is technically possible to deliver the government’s target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions in the built environment [by 2050] … however, this would require maximum uptake of technically viable solutions in all sectors, including implementation of technologies that at present do not have a financial return on investment over their lifetime. Delivering this [outcome] is dependent on improving the economic viability of technical solutions and addressing market failures.” (p84, emphasis added)

The report also assumes a ‘slow but steady’ decline in emissions from now to 2050, however many critics now say that ‘urgent and large’ drops in emissions are needed soon if there is any chance to avoid a 4C average global warming this century.

The energy used by people within buildings, at home, work and play, accounts for 36% of all the UK’s carbon emissions. It is more than transport, and is more than the amount used by industry. Most of the energy is used for heating buildings, then hot water, then lighting, and finally for cooling and ventilation. The exception is found in shops, where more energy is used for lighting than for heating.


The development of the Routemap was managed by WRAP, with Arup and the Climate Centre to provide technical support. Their analysis shows the UK Built Environment was responsible for almost 210 MtCO2e of emissions in 1990 and just over 190 MtCO2e in 2010. One MtCO2e is one mega or million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. The “e” at the end means that other greenhouse gases (such as methane) are included with their equivalent greenhouse strength. One tonne of methane gas released into the atmosphere, for example, is as bad as roughly 40 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Link to GCS Resources page:

Link to Routemap report (77 Pages):

Climate Change and Manchester, how can commercial buildings perform better? – “governments talk, cities act” #MACF2013

Governments talk, cities act” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, quoted with approval by Sir Richard Leese, Leader, Manchester City Council yesterday at the MACF event yesterday.

MACF is Manchester: A Certain Future and brings together an effective change-based partnership of people from a mix of politics, business, community, arts, education, faith and public bodies to develop and enact changes within Manchester that will urgently push down the city’s CO2 emissions.

The event yesterday was a stock-take on progress since 2009 and workshops to explore the “next big things” that the city can achieve together.

One area where the city does need to make further progress, and quickly, is in reducing the energy use of our commercial buildings. In the discussions it was noted that the energy costs are a small fraction of occupation costs, especially in the city centre where rent plus all charges may be up to £50 per square foot, whereas the energy costs may be less than £2 of this.

The downside is that it is sometimes hard to make a financial case on such a small margin, was the feeling of the key property people present.

However, a possible upside is that the risks of financial loss are therefore also small. If this was a costed PR project rather than a costed energy-saving project, the cost/benefits would be highly attractive when compared with other PR options.

The trick could well be to obtain the PR return on investment as a result, and one approach here is to have a DEC – display energy certificate – in the lobby or even better in the front window, to show competitors and attract responsible customers.

Having good evidence is key to making city-change work to its best effect. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also said that, “On the US dollar note it says ‘In God we trust’, however everybody else has to bring data.”

UK Housebuilding needs to grow much more, or risk becoming overtaken by “flat pack” imported homes.

This week has seen four of the UK’s major housebuilding companies publish their annual reports and accounts. One has just been sold to a USA hedge fund. The business press has been kind to the companies, mostly because they have returned to profit and can pay a dividend again.
But at a price. 2012 was the third-lowest year for building new houses in the UK since 1947. All the companies have massively scaled back their volume of work in the UK, though some are still strong in the Arab states. Mostly the companies have shed many staff, are now building mainly small numbers of higher-value properties and then only south of Cambridge. To remain profitable the companies have had to become smaller niche builders.
This is bad news for the UK economy and for growing families. If this collapse continues we risk housebuilding going the same way as the manufacturing sector – local decline followed by growing imports.
To date the idea of importing new houses has seemed too daft to seriously consider. However, with modern methods of construction including 2D panels and 3D modules made by offsite manufacturing, as is already commonplace in Germany and elsewhere, it will only seem a daft business idea until the new profits start to roll in. Singapore could well become the UK’s volume housebuilder.