Catriona Lingwood, chief executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East, reflects on a busy year for the built environment.
2021 has been a year of significant change not just within the built environment, but for all sectors, as organisations adapted to new methods of working be that from home, the office or within a hybrid format. We have also witnessed a seismic shift in work life balance and ensuring employee wellbeing is at the forefront of activity.
The sector is continuing to embrace technologies, the concept and need for a digital thread of information, particularly within recent UK government publications. The most notable examples being the Building Safety Bill and the Construction Playbook.
Nationally and on a regional level, the built environment has welcomed the Government’s introduction of the Building Safety Bill, published with the intention of overhauling building regulations in England and Wales. We applauded the bill’s objective to strengthen the regulatory system for building safety by establishing a comprehensive new building safety regime governing the design, construction and occupation of higher-risk buildings. This will be achieved by ensuring there is greater accountability and responsibility for the design and construction of buildings and, thereafter, throughout the lifecycle of buildings.
We have also seen a shift in attitude from within the industry. Launched in December 2020, the construction playbook, developed by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC), was not just viewed as ‘another document’ but has been embraced as a way to collaborate and forge better strategic relationships between the public and private sectors. The CLC is listening to the sector and construction is feeling supported.
The Construction Playbook also recognised that Building Information Modelling (BIM) will be key to compiling the information for both the design and construction stages and enable continued updates and maintenance.
The pandemic has emphasised the importance of thinking about programmes and projects in new ways and the sector has come together to support this. We have seen a real turning point with best practice and a willingness from the industry to work together.
National initiatives have also been reflected on a regional level. The Construction Leaders Council Skills Plan to address the ever-growing skills gap, was evidenced within the regional construction sector’s OneVoice action plan.
OneVoice focuses on three integrated themes to drive cultural change – climate, people and value. It was developed and saw cross-sector support from Construction Industry Council North East (CIC), Constructing Excellence North East (CENE), Construction Alliance North East (CAN) and Generation for Change (G4C) who form its steering group.
Working with the Local Enterprise Partnerships, we aim to attract, develop, retain, reward and celebrate the North East talent pool and we are encouraging stakeholders and clients to recognise value over cost to drive a better built environment and ensure a confident supply chain.
OneVoice is also advocating the North East England Climate Coalition in its mission to become England’s greenest region by working collaboratively to ensure it delivers on decarbonising the region’s-built environment.
Sustainability has been a key influencer and will continue to be integrated in all activity moving forward. We have seen a drive from local authorities to achieve the Government’s ambition to become carbon neutral by 2050. These developments are helping to meet the industrial decarbonisation challenge by growing renewables, developing new energy carriers, improving energy efficiency, achieving net-zero emissions and creating new markets for carbon and other by-products as part of an increasingly circular economy.
In line with this, our annual construction summit, supported the industry’s OneVoice campaign and this year, we held an innovation exhibition – A COP26 inspired regional roadshow event to inspire climate action. Funding was available to SMEs with new ideas that support the sustainability and climate emergency agenda within construction. We also partnered with SmartCarbon Ltd, to offer companies in the construction sector a rolling programme of activity to reduce their carbon emissions.
We also welcomed the return of The Constructing Excellence North East Awards at the Grand Hotel Gosforth Park in October followed by the Generation for Change (G4C) Awards at the Hilton NewcastleGateshead, later in the month. Both awards provided an opportunity for the sector to reconnect in person and to celebrate the innovative projects taking place across the North East as well as shining the spotlight on the region’s talent pool.