On Tuesday 2 July the government launched its construction strategy for England at the Government Construction Summit in London.
Alastair McCapra, chief executive of the Landscape Institute, was there. He writes:
There were no great surprises among the announcements, and the main theme is that the construction sector worldwide is forecast to go through a period of rapid expansion between now and 2025. The government wants to make sure the UK industry has the edge in terms of skills, technological capability and human capacity to carve out a significant share of that world market over the coming period.
As we know, the mainstays of the government approach to securing this are to push forward with BIM adoption and to ‘streamline’ the supply chain, which basically means driving consolidation among smaller sector firms.
Enlightened thinking about the relationship between grey and green infrastructure features fairly small in the Construction 2025 strategy. ‘Green’, or ‘sustainable’, in this strategy, usually means ‘more energy efficient’. The document actually cites the London Olympic Park as ‘the greenest [ever], with innovative approaches to logistics, site ecology and the reuse of venues’ and it notes that ‘we can do much to promote the benefits of water efficiency, improving air quality, better management of noise and bio-diversity. These issues play strongly in terms of the industry’s image with the public at large and its attraction to new entrants.’ Unfortunately the strategy does not seem to develop the idea that an ability to develop world-class, low energy buildings in the context of a well-designed multi-functional landscape could be a key USP for UK construction in the world market.
Lord Deighton, from the Treasury, asked delegates to let him know what was missing from the national infrastructure plan, which seems an excellent prompt to write to him about the relationship between grey and green infrastructure. He also wanted more ideas on what we can do to improve public procurement.
Michael Fallon, from BIS, affirmed the government commitment to using whole-life cost and whole-life value in OJEU tenders. This could be useful to the landscape profession because it would allow projects with higher capital costs but better sustainability outcomes to beat less sustainable proposals with lower capital costs in OJEU tenders.
Perhaps most disappointing was the contrast between the lofty aspirations of ministers setting out the 2025 vision for the industry in the morning, and the contributions from Chloe Smith, minister for political and constitutional reform, in the afternoon.
The talk of the morning was about skills, training, diversity, capacity, and financial robustness. Chloe Smith spoke about what the government was doing, as a client, to secure better value for money from its construction procurement. Government is aggressively driving down the cost of its construction work, which it regards as ‘achieving greater efficiencies’. Much of this, however, is simply about making the contractor work much harder and squeeze their own supply chain more painfully. There is no doubt that this delivers cheaper results, for the government, but it is hard to square this with the visions of a thriving sector investing generously in itself, its skills, its technical knowledge and its own future.
Overall, it seems, the government is making good progress towards its own goals as far as construction is concerned. Whether those goals will genuinely result in a stronger, world-class UK industry is rather more doubtful. Construction 2025 is available here