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September Overview – Natalia Sokolov

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

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