Claire Coutinho replaces Grant Shapps as Energy Secretary
Today, the Government confirmed that Claire Coutinho is to take up the post of Secretary of State at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), replacing Grant Shapps who was named as the new Defence Secretary. Claire Coutinho has previously served as Minister for Disabled People and Minister for Children in the Department for Education, and is currently the Conservative MP for East Surrey having been elected in December 2019.
Parliament returns from summer recess
Both Houses of Parliament return from summer recess on Monday and will sit until conference recess begins on the 23rd September. Parliament will then resume on the 11th October.
Hydrogen levy on household energy bills axed
The Government confirmed earlier this week that a proposed £120 annual levy on household energy bills to cover the cost of producing hydrogen is to be axed. The tax would have taken effect in 2025 as part of plans to replace fossil fuels. The Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, Grant Shapps, tabled an amendment to the Energy Bill on Tuesday (29 August) that would stop the levy being paid for via energy suppliers and their customers. Instead, companies that buy and transport gas will shoulder the burden of hydrogen’s extra cost. Labour called the move was a “humiliating U-turn”. The Government says hydrogen could play a “critical role” in meeting net zero, and has been legislating via the energy bill to support development of low-carbon ways of producing hydrogen, including electrolysis and renewable energy.
Government announces new steps to accelerate Sizewell C preparations
On Tuesday (29 August), the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero issued a press release announcing that £341 million worth of investment would be made available to speed up preparations to make the site at Sizewell C in Suffolk “shovel-ready”. The extra money will help prepare the site for construction, procuring key components from the project’s supply chain, and expanding its workforce. The additional funding is part of the Government’s plans to expand nuclear energy in the UK, with the aim of nuclear powering up to a quarter of UK electricity demands by 2050.
Government announces plans to scrap housebuilder water pollution rules, claiming move will enable 100,000 more homes to be built
On Tuesday (29 August), the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove announced plans that mean developers will no longer have to offset the nutrient pollution caused by sewage from new homes. Through an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Government will scrap a “defective” legacy EU law on net nutrient neutrality rules. The rules were first put in place in 2017 when the UK was still a member of the European Union and recommended that in dozens of protected areas across England, local authorities should not give the go-ahead to any new development that is projected to add to river nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates, either through wastewater from new homes or run-off from building sites.
Gove claims that “doing away with this red tap” will allow for the delivery of more than 100,000 new homes. In an attempt to quell the concerns of environmentalists, the Government has said it will double Natural England’s wetland funding to £280m in order to show it is trying to meet the requirements of its legally binding Environment Act. However, The Guardian reports the extra £140 million will come from the public purse. When asked by The Guardian whether this meant the taxpayer was now picking up the bill for pollution caused by developers, a Government official responded “yes”, adding that while “the polluter pays principle is very important”, it was having too many adverse impacts on small- and medium-sized housebuilders.
IN THE NEWS
Schools with dangerous concrete race to replan start of term – BBC News
BBC News reports that more than 100 schools in England are scrambling to make arrangements after being told to shut buildings with a type of concrete prone to collapse. Schools found with buildings containing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) have been told they must introduce safety measures, which could include propping up ceilings. A “minority” will need to “either fully or partially relocate” to alternative accommodation while those measures are installed, the Department for Education (DfE) has said. A few publications have referenced BRE’s 1996 report on RAAC in their write-ups of the news, which advised the Government to inspect buildings with this material.
More than a million face £720 ‘leaky home surcharge’ on energy bills – The Telegraph
The Telegraph reports on new research from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) which warns that more than a million people living in older houses will pay £720 more for heating this winter. It comes as the energy regulator Ofgem announced last Friday a reduction in the energy price cap from £2,074 to £1,923 from October, as a result of falling gas and oil prices. Those in older properties face paying even more due to their properties being less energy efficient. The fuel poverty charity National Energy Action said the cost for the least efficient homes would be even higher, putting it at around £900, while estimating there around 1.5 million such homes in Britain. Jess Ralston, an analyst at the ECIU, said the Government’s “Great British Insulation Scheme”, which was formerly known as ECO+, has “flatlined”. The energy efficiency project aims to spend £1bn on properly insulating 300,000 homes, saving consumers up to £400 a year on their energy bills.
Regulator to recruit 100 new staff to deal with extra powers – Inside Housing
Inside Housing reports that the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) is aiming to boost its workforce by nearly 50% with 100 new staff members as it gears up to take on extra powers. The public body, which currently has 226 employees, has launched a recruitment drive after being handed new powers under the Social Housing (Regulation) Act. The RSH is currently advertising for up to four assistant directors of regulatory engagement, an assistant director of assessment and tenant engagement, and a tenant engagement manager. Under the new legislation, passed last month, the RSH will have the power to carry out regular inspections of social landlords and issue unlimited fines. New consumer standards to protect tenants will also be enforced by the regulator, with the regime due to go live next April.
Millions of UK homes urgently need energy efficiency improvements – Time we “Help to Fix” says construction sector – Politics Home
The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has written in Politics Home calling for a long-term strategy including a government loan scheme to boost retrofitting of UK homes. The CIOB claims a loan scheme which enables homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their properties is needed if the UK is to reduce energy consumption, cut carbon emissions and bring down consumer bills. The call has been made in response to the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee’s recent ‘Heating our Homes’ inquiry, where the CIOB also reiterated previous calls for the Government to support the Construction Leadership Council’s National Retrofit Strategy. The CIOB says previous government schemes such as the Green Homes Grant and Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) have failed for several reasons, most notably that homeowners were required to part fund energy efficiency work in a lump sum. For many this simply wasn’t an option at the time the schemes were on offer, especially not during a cost-of-living crisis.
UK pension funds write to prime minister over net-zero policies – Professional Pensions
Professional Pensions reports that a group of UK pension funds have written to the Prime Minister warning that recent public statements and policy decisions regarding the net zero transition are impacting investor confidence. Members of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), including major pension schemes such as the BT Pension Scheme (BTPS), Local Government Pension Scheme Central, Railpen, Scottish Widows, the People’s Partnership, TPT Retirement Solutions, Aegon and Aegon Asset Management, warned that recent moves to dilute or delay decarbonisation policies would impact the ability of financiers to provide the estimated £50bn to £60bn of annual investment required to deliver on the UK’s legally-binding climate goals.
The letter said: “We are writing to express concern at government’s recent public statements and policy signals, which risk undermining the UK’s leadership in the clarity, certainty, and confidence of policymaking toward meeting the UK’s commitment to net zero. This shift blurs regulatory visibility for investors and risks the ability of the finance sector to make the large-scale, transformative investments required to accelerate net-zero delivery and unlock growth in the UK.”
Gove writes to social landlords about poor performance
The Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove has written to social landlords that have received “severe maladministration judgements” from the Housing Ombudsman or receiving regulatory notices for breaches of the Regulator of Social Housing’s consumer standards. Local councils to have received notices include Camden Council, Lambeth Council, Nottingham Council and Westminster City Council.
UK Business Climate Hub launches
On Monday (14 August), the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero launched the UK Business Climate Hub, providing small businesses with advice on everything from paying less for EVs, getting a low-carbon heat pump, to generating green energy and selling it back to the grid to make money. Businesses will be given access to a free carbon calculator and a suite of new tools to help them measure, track and report on their emissions and save money by using less energy. The new support is aimed at 5.5 million small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) in the UK, with business and industry accounting for around 25% of emissions. Research shows that 90% of SMEs are keen to tackle climate change, but find it difficult to know how or where to start to find the right solutions to reduce their carbon footprint.
CESW are thrilled to announce that James Bromley, Commercial Director of our Gold Member organisation BYLOR and a key figure in the success of the Hinkley Point development, has joined our organisation as the new Somerset Chair for Constructing Excellence South West.
James brings with him a wealth of experience and expertise in the construction industry, garnered from his pivotal role in one of the most recognised and significant projects in recent years, Hinkley Point. His dedication to excellence and commitment to fostering positive change aligns seamlessly with the values and goals of Constructing Excellence South West.
We are confident that James will make a substantial impact as Somerset Chair, contributing to the growth and success of our organisation. His leadership will undoubtedly be instrumental in strengthening the construction community in the Somerset region.
CESW Chair, Dan Macey expresses his delight, saying, “We are thrilled to welcome James to our team of industry experts, each of whom is dedicated to creating a positive impact within the sector. In our conversations with James over the past few months, the word ‘Value’ has consistently been at the forefront.
Please join me in extending a warm welcome to James as he embarks on this new role. We look forward to the fresh perspectives and insights he will bring to our organisation, further enhancing our mission of promoting excellence within the construction industry.”
James has a proven record of delivering commercial success throughout his 20-year career with Laing O’Rourke. James is currently the Commercial Director for the Hinkley Point C Main Civils Works being delivered by Bylor which is a Joint Venture between Bouygues Travaux Publics and Laing O’Rourke construction and is Europe’s largest Construction project.
A chartered Commercial Director with both European hub, Group, corporate level, functional and operational commercial leadership experience. James has worked across multiple sectors including Laing O’Rourke’s direct delivery businesses, Nuclear, infrastructure, healthcare, PFI, Education, data centre, scientific research facilities, manufacturing, retail and research and development. James’ operational experience has allowed him to consistently deliver value to Laing O’Rourke’s repeat clients through the successful delivery of significant projects within the portfolio.
James is passionate about delivering commercial and technical excellence through the adoption of collaborative working practices and Modern Methods of Construction and has been instrumental in leading the commercial digital and data strategies whilst optimising commercial performance across a broad portfolio with a particular focus on NEC & JCT forms of contract.
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As usual in September, we embark on our new Season of activities to influence construction’s change agenda. This time, of course, we are facing unprecedented challenges: The ongoing war in Ukraine, the almost daily evidence of impending climate disaster, ecocide, global supply chain disruption, flatlining productivity, growing inequalities, and other difficulties.
But there’s hope too, buoyed by the confidence we have in our ingenuity as human beings, in our resilience, in our creativity in overcoming challenges, coupled now with the immense opportunities for technological and organisational transformations offered by AI and other emerging technologies. And fresh ways of organising and working too.
Given the sometimes seemingly insurmountable problems we face, Martyn Jones argues that sustaining hope has become more important than ever. Why so? Well, hope allows us to approach problems with a mindset and a set of strategies to enable success, thereby increasing the chances that we will accomplish our challenging goals.
Hope is not a brand-new concept in psychology. In 1991, the eminent positive psychologist Charles R. Snyder and his colleagues came up with ‘Hope Theory.’ They argued that hope consists of agency and pathways.
People who have hope have the will and determination (the agency) that goals will be achieved, coupled with a set of strategies at their disposal (the means) to reach their goals. Put simply, hope involves the will to get to where you want to be, and the ways to get there. This has always been right at the heart of Constructing Excellence thinking. Psychologist Shane Lopez, who has studied hope extensively, defines it as “the belief that the future will be better than the present, coupled with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” It is this combination of optimism and personal agency that differentiates hope from bravado or wishful
thinking. When we buy a lottery ticket, we are engaged in wishful thinking. When we draw up the business case and strategies for a business or a construction project we are in the realm of hope.
And that’s where Constructing Excellence can play a key role. Seeing hope as a strong force for change and helping us to work collaboratively to shape a better, positive, plausible, greener, more productive, healthier, more equitable future.
We can support the will of clients – and leaders from all parts of the supply chain – to get to where the built environment and our planet needs to be but also helping them to shape – and more importantly – deploy the means by which we can confidently get there, meeting the challenges along the way and making the most of the opportunities.
We shouldn’t see hope as just a feel-good emotion but rather as a dynamic, cognitive, and motivational approach. Within this concept of hope, emotions follow cognitions or thoughts, not the other way round, with hope leading to learning goals, which can drive change and improvement.
We, in Constructing Excellence, have a long history of encouraging our members to set learning goals, to be actively engaged in learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track.
But this role is now more important than ever as we help each other to imagine a more credible future that is better than the present. By identifying the pathways to that future (drawing on the technologies and new ways of working associated with the new techno-economic paradigm), we will cultivate hope that is both effective and resilient.
So instead of fixating on a dismal future, we should work together to consciously imagine plausible alternative prospects that stimulate energy and motivation instead of dread and anxiety. Constructing Excellence has the means to package and dispense hope, like a bestselling pill, but more powerful than any antidepressant on the market!
But our ambition need not stop there. Alongside this, our Theme Groups: Future Skills, Climate Crisis, SMART Construction and Building Safety, along with our partner LeadersMeets, can provide the collective thinking and means to harness the new technologies, and help implement smarter, greener, and safer solutions.
There has never been a sharper focus on sustainability and emissions in construction. As a construction lawyer working in the industry, I am aware of the challenges and opportunities this represents for our clients, and so was delighted to be asked to chair the Constructing Excellence SW Climate Crisis sub-group this year.
With the built environment industry as a whole responsible for 40% of global CO2 emissions, and construction 11%, the responsibility is on construction businesses to lead the way in the push towards sustainability and green-focused buildings. Infrastructure is said to contribute to half of UK Greenhouse Gas emissions, of which 30% are attributable to the construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure assets.
This is, of course, challenging and often not a top priority for businesses at the moment, against the backdrop of a huge challenges across the industry as labour shortages, the skills gap, the costs of materials and the wider economic landscape continue to impact all of us.
Notable changes to legislation
As a lawyer I am naturally interested in the numerous changes to legislation and regulation which have impacted on construction and engineering projects of all shapes and sizes, and will continue to do so in the future. Here are just a few of the recent changes which are noteworthy.
- Nutrient neutrality regulations
At the end of August we saw the announcement of a significant, and somewhat controversial, proposal to change the nutrient neutrality regulations, which were widely considered to have been a factor in a ‘bottleneck’ holding up development of an estimated 100,000 homes in areas where there are concerns over pollution of waterways.
The amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will remove the ‘requirement’ on Natural England to advise councils not to approve housing schemes in affected areas. This will be welcomed by developers but does not, and should not, remove the responsibility they have to limit and mitigate the environmental impact of their projects – and no doubt environmental campaigners and local communities will continue to hold them to account.
- PAS 2080 carbon management standard
Also with the goal of a reduction in carbon emissions, a revision to the carbon management standard PAS 2080 has been launched. This revised and expanded standard, published by the British Standards Institution with sponsorship from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Green Construction Board (GCB), now covers the entire built environment rather than infrastructure only. It provides a systematic way to integrate carbon into decision-making and supports the transition to a carbon ‘net zero’ economy by 2050, with a focus on the ‘whole-life view’ of carbon (and cost)
reduction through improvements in design, construction and use. It is becoming mandatory across many frameworks as well as filtering down the supply chain.
On a related note, we should be encouraged to see the launch of the first Net Zero Carbon new build out of town office HQ in the South West at 1000 Aztec West, Bristol, which is powered by renewable energy and uses energy efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems.
- Biodiversity Net Gain requirements
Importantly, Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) requirements for developers come into effect in November, part of a drive to restore biodiversity in the UK to address declines in some species and the effect of development upon water and air quality. It means all future development proposals in England must consider BNG as part of their pre-development plans, and in most cases will need to mitigate or offset the environmental effects of their projects – effectively having a net positive impact on the natural world and encouraging re-wilding and new habitat creation across England.
- Building Safety Act regulations
On the theme of responsibility, new regulations deriving from the Building Safety Act 2022 place more stringent requirements on developers of new higher-risk buildings, and those who carry out substantial refurbishment of existing higher-risk buildings, such as high-rise blocks. These changes, introduced in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster of 2017, are designed to increase oversight and accountability through the design and construction phases and during the occupation of higher-risk buildings. The Act is causing ripples already across the industry, as developers and constructors seek to make the significant changes required to adhere to the Act, and requirements to be monitored by the new BSA Regulator.
Challenges and opportunities to come
As the above list shows, change is a constant in the construction industry. This doesn’t just apply to legislative and regulatory change, but also to the ways we live, work and use our buildings. We see the competing challenges of companies trying to make staff return to offices, against the efficiency and reduced carbon output of working from home. As remote and hybrid working continue to bed in, it is likely that office developments in the next 10 years will look very different to those of the past.
A brighter outlook is predicted for 2024, with up to 12% growth expected for the industry. A future of green or greener construction involves working together to incorporate environmentally friendly processes into all stages of construction. The increase in modular construction methods, including automation, offer more off-site opportunities, potentially less waste and reducing on-site emissions by over 80%. Energy efficient fixtures and fittings will also reduce heat transfer, loss and consumption. Challenges and change, while difficult, can also bring about a different perspective, positivity and opportunity and help to build resilience.
CESW Climate Crisis Sub-Group
My initial experiences of CESW have so far been positive, inspiring and motivating. I am excited to chair the Climate Crisis Sub-Group, which exists to share, influence and network with industry leaders in the region, providing them with a voice and leadership on sustainability opportunities and challenges. I look forward to meeting members who wish to engage and contribute to our sub-group meetings – the next of which takes place on September 26th.I also looking forward to meeting many more of you at the upcoming AGM.
Natalia Sokolov, construction lawyer at Thrings and chair, CESW Climate Crisis Theme Group