Thought 15 - Edge response to Agenda 15 - February 2014

agenda15logoyel_228In January 2014 Building Magazine launched its Agenda 15 campaign asking for contributions for policy initiatives that could feed into the political parties’ manifestos for the 2015 election.

Building asked a series of questions:
The Edge responded:

1. What is the single biggest policy change that would help the growth of a sustainable and world-leading construction industry in the UK? Please describe the measure in detail and explain why it is so important.
Government to retake the leadership of the debate: internationally on how we can achieve equilibrium with our planet’s finite resources; and nationally in developing a plan to meet domestic targets, with a clear strategy for working with scarce resources and avoiding waste, unnecessary clashes and unintended consequences.

Why it this important: Grappling with the challenges of sustainability and climate change is a collective social and political enterprise. The technology and economics can only fall into place if there is a strong sense of purpose and democratically achieved agreement.

From Margaret Thatcher’s speech to the United Nations in 1989 until about 2010, the UK had a strong international leadership role, backed by cross-party agreement at home. This needs to be backed by consistent long-term policy making at home to create the conditions for innovation and investment.

The measure in detail:
A. Consistent leadership in government: with a clear grasp of the fundamentals; and the ability to inspire many individuals and organisations to join in and to support them in their efforts.
B. Effective and integrated support from the built environment sector.
C. A convincing plan to meet the target of the 2008 Climate Change Act that provides certainty of demand, improved procurement processes and an outline of future regulations; plus the will to stick with it.

2. What is the single most important spending measure that a future government could bring in, and why? Please explain why that measure is important.
Eliminate fuel poverty by upgrading, at public expense, 6 million dwellings over the next 20 years and rebooting the Green Deal for everyone else. As well as eliminating fuel poverty and increasing energy security, this will save the UK large sums in fuel imports, reduce the demand on the NHS, improve educational outcomes, reduce unemployment, increase skills, stimulate the economy and help create the conditions in which homeowners choose to upgrade at their own expense. The ensuing VAT receipts will more than compensate for the initial expenditure. The sums add up and it can work if it is done properly.

Why it is important: The need to improve the performance of the existing stock, to achieve multiple benefits far beyond the energy and carbon saving, e.g. for comfort, health and fuel poverty. The potential to create sustainable and rewarding local jobs with major economic benefits through multiplier effects.

The measure in detail:
A. Recognise the importance of creating a sound technical evidence base and skilled assessors and installers;
B. Build technical capacity based on effective monitoring and performance feedback;
C. Create local skills that can be trusted in their communities and can take account of local opportunities and constraints;
D. Review the golden rule. Payback is not the only basis on which people will make energy-saving investments, particularly at “opportunity points”, where they are undertaking other construction or maintenance work; and
E. Don’t lose patience. Be prepared for momentum to build up slowly, but unstoppably if suitably supported and directed.
Remember that many people and organisations would be prepared to invest their own money in doing things, if they felt they could trust the providers and the results.

3. What do you believe are currently the biggest barriers to the growth of the construction industry in the UK?
A. Lack of clear and consistent leadership and direction from governments over time, especially with respect to nationally important infrastructure projects and with continually changing policies that deter investment and jobs. No long-term policy with the determination to deliver.
B. Absence of a regional planning layer between the local and the national levels; and of fiscal devolution to the Core City Regions.
C. A lack of confidence and competence. Much more feedback of building performance in use will be needed, so that we know what works and what really needs to be improved. This area of knowledge needs supporting as an independent inter-disciplinary knowledge domain, that can provide independent evidence and insights to support effective action in the public interest.

4. What do you believe is the most significant policy change the government could make to promote a greener built environment?
Performance measurement and compulsory DECs for all buildings

Why it is important: This will provide real data, to inform not just the construction industry, but all those who can contribute to improving building performance, including building owners, occupiers, managers, procurers and providers of services and equipment. With strong leadership, this will help all players involved in producing, occupying, altering, using and managing buildings to understand that energy performance in use is the goal, work towards it, and be able to measure their contributions. It will also help many other policy measures related to buildings, energy and carbon to converge onto in-use performance, resulting in streamlined procedures, improved data flow, less red tape and more action.

The measure in detail:
A. Expand the annual DEC system into commercial and domestic buildings, taking proper account of the complexities of multi-building sites and landlord-tenant-manager relationships.
B. Invest properly in technical support for effective reporting, review and especially benchmarking, which has been horribly neglected for more than a decade.
C. Invest in a common technical platform, that can support government, industry and the public and stop incompatible and burdensome buildings and energy policies originating from four different government departments (BIS, DCLG, DECC and Defra, not to mention the Treasury); and to help things to converge. Measure once, use many times!

5. Which, if any, areas of current government policy towards the industry do you feel must be preserved?
The 2008 Climate Change Act and the concomitant policy on near zero energy buildings

Why this is important: A long term plan, including legislation for decarbonising the building stock, will act as a beacon and trigger a whole range of initiatives on this and related issues. However the level of political commitment to achieving the requirements of the Act has been disappointing.

The measure in detail:
A. Maintain the challenge, so that people can rise to it, and not just do the minimum.
B. Move the focus to in-use performance, using DECs and the associated support measures.
C. Be realistic about delivery: the best can be the enemy of the good, for example leading to over-complicated, under-performing buildings with expensive and incomprehensible engineering and control systems.  
D. Give more support to the pioneers in order to build capacity that can be deployed more generally.
E. Do not use low-carbon energy supplies as excuses for having inefficient buildings.
F. Take care that “low carbon” supplies do not create unintended consequences, as biomass seems to be doing.

6. What measures would you like a future government to take to encourage and support longer-term infrastructure planning?
Take account of the recommendations of the Armitt Review, which has said, “The UK urgently requires a coherent 25-30 year national infrastructure strategy. This should be underpinned by an evidence-based assessment of our needs and clear plans as to how these needs will be fulfilled. Any such strategy cannot be delivered without a strong and enduring political will … ”

Its central recommendation is a new National Infrastructure Commission with statutory independence.

The Edge – February 2014
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