Worshipful Company of Constructors                            SBE0057

Written evidence from the Worshipful Company of Constructors

This evidence submission has been coordinated by Martin Gettings FIEMA CENV, Director Sustainability Canary Wharf Group, Chair WCoC Climate Action Group, and Chair Supply Chain Sustainability School Climate Action Group.

[Introduction by Derek Farrow, WCoC]

1. The Worshipful Company of Constructors (WCoC) is one of the 110 Livery Companies of the City of London. The Company was founded by members in 1976 being granted Livery by The Court of Aldermen in 1990.  The Company continued to prosper and in 2010 was granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Our Royal Charter was presented to us at Merchant Taylors’ Hall in the City of London on 14th April 2011.

 

2. The Constructors’ Company supports Awards and Scholarships in the industry including substantial research and travel awards to young persons.  We grant at least 2 Sustainability Scholarships every year within our scholarships program. We have established a Climate Action Committee of which its constitution and indeed the membership of the WCoC are industry leaders.

 

3. We continue to set industry standards, most of our liverymen being Chartered Members of their respective professional institutes and many are in leading positions within the wider industry. 

We seek always to pass this experience on to those who follow us.  Our Motto is “Construction provides a civilised world” and we feel that it is construction sector and its associated industries that can make significant contribution and therefore enable the overall sustainability of the built environment.

 

4. The EAC request for evidence is timely, the areas for evidence collection as highlighted in sections 1-10 do however lead the respondent to be selective in the response, which give the enormity of the problem may in itself limit the ability of the EAC to react appropriately of comprehensively enough to the issues at hand.

5. The construction industry in the UK has an almost unmeasurable capacity to modernise and change, and through immediate and bold action, has the capacity to create a massive positive impact. The industry currently relies on brick, concrete, timber and diesel fuel and increasingly plastic, for example the drive for more airtight buildings drives up the use of plastic, but as a highly agile industry, there is an opportunity to capitalise on green technology to decarbonise the built environment.

6. Government response to the climate issue needs to be bold and drive the industry to change, through all policy areas, the change in the planning policy in regard to permitted development to allow easier demolition being a clear example where environmental consideration have not been taken into account. Smart policy that is climate and carbon conscious would not have done this. We the WCoC urge the committee to be bold in the recommendations, drive change and deliver better standards. Use all the tools available from the planning policy to building regulation and funding agreements to drive change. The urgency of the climate crisis cannot be ignored, and the impact of construction and the ongoing lifecycle of the build assets must react accordingly.

 

To what extent have the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations on decarbonising the structural fabric of new homes been met?

[GT, SC, AR – WCoC CAC]

7. Planning and Building Regulations

8. The Future Homes Standard

  1. Property Values and Portfolio Management

 

  1. Beyond Building Life
    1. Offsite manufacture and modularisation is yet to demonstrate it is a better standard to achieve “net zero carbon” by 2050
    2. How modular buildings are recycled and reused has yet to be proven
    3. Modular buildings are not as adaptable as buildings that have a long-life loose fit capacity (student housing tends to be modularised, private bespoke housing tends to be long-life loose-fit
    4. The demand for modularisation is driven by short onsite construction times however the ability for modules to be adapted is limited – but recycled highly likely
    5. The Georgian and Victorian Terrace has a long-life loose-fit capability which makes re-use highly likely

 

  1. Cost V Carbon
    1. The measurement of carbon embodied in buildings is likely to be assessed during the cost planning phase prior to manufacture
    2. Carbon V Cost is not always relatable therefore it is likely a building will have a priced schedule and a carbon schedule and the developer will have to consider which measure to apply at what stage during construction
    3. Will developers pay a carbon tax for carbon heavy buildings?
    4. Will developers be paid grants for low carbon embodied buildings?
    5. [SC WCoC CAC] The Cost; Time; Quality triangle that is currently used to determine a clients priorities in a project needs to be expanded to now include carbon, as the degree to which carbon is prioritised will impact on the other three factors.

 

How can materials be employed to reduce the carbon impact of new buildings, including efficient heating and cooling, and which materials are most effective at reducing embodied carbon?

 

  1. Materials Used in Construction of Housing
    1. Some materials, such as timber products, are thought to be sustainable from a carbon reduction perspective; however when the whole life carbon is assessed, energy used in production and the ability for materials to be reused is considered it appears timber, steel, and concrete industry has a different “green angle” promoting their products and there is no definitive measure
    2. National issues such as “Grenfell” has caused the industry to avoid timber use in construction of housing

 

  1. Heating systems
    1. The presumption of Gas boilers needs to be addressed immediately, the combination of hydrogen with Natural gas to reduce the carbon footprint is not a solution to the problem and should be seen as an attempt by the gas industry to hang on to market share

What role can the planning system, permitted development and building regulations play in delivering a sustainable built environment? How can these policies incentivise developers to use low carbon materials and sustainable design?

14. The planning system itself is a policy area which in combination with local aspiration has been adapted to drive change, the Merton Rule being a specific example. However, the more powerful outcome on projects is where an informed view is taken by the client or the client is educated by the team early. A recent project to develop a significant site took the informed decision to appoint a sustainability consultant at the same time as the Planning consultant and the architect. The obvious site solution was demolition and rebuild, but with strategic advice from the sustainability manager on the carbon impact of demolition the planning team adopted a strategy with a presumption of retention where possible. This drove the architect to a more inventive and ultimately better scheme which retained more that 50% of the existing, but included fabric improvements to enhance energy performance.  There needs to be policy that drives developers to consider sustainability at the same time as planning.

What methods account for embodied carbon in buildings and how can this be consistently applied across the sector?

  1. Thoughts
    1. An agreed method for accounting for embodied carbon is required
    2. The whole life carbon assessment is needed to understand the “burden shift” from operational based decision making to embodied carbon decision making
    3. Currently the industry is not measuring carbon in the design process
    4. Currently there is no definitive standard in planning or building regulations
    5. Currently no standard in the measuring of carbon during a buildings operation
    6. Currently no measuring of recycled content or re-use in / of buildings
    7. Two dimension zoning of cities promotes commuting, due to land use distributed unevenly, the third dimension of cities with people living near their work and leisure needs to have a role to help achieve “net zero carbon” by 2050
    8. The whole of the UK as a relatively small country can play an important role to reduce the need to cluster and commute around economic centres, regional and coastal areas could offer more

How should re-use and refurbishment of buildings be balanced with new developments?

[RT – WCoC CAC]

 

16. 40% of the UK building stock is pre 1945, 65% pre 1969, 75% pre 1979 and over 90% pre 1999 (EU Building Stock Observatory).  This translates to a substantial amount of buildings not to current standards, and in need of maintenance, repair and upgrade.  The building stock classed as heritage with any form of listing protection are probably more likely to receive repair and maintenance remembering that heritage forms a close connection to economic activity providing over 206,000 direct jobs and supporting a further 357,000 roles in construction, tourism and creative industries (Historic England, 2020).   Heritage plays and important role in our wellbeing, is an essential part of the social fabric of our society and invites visitors from all over the world.  The whole building approach needs to be considered in the approach to refurbishment v new build and there are a number of ways we can look at this:

 

          Responsible retrofit of historic building stock can reduce carbon emissions, save money, improve comfort and health and improve the value and longevity of a building.

          Challenge demolition and measure embodied carbon as part of the process

          Design more flexible buildings to ensure future re-use:  Pre 1800 there were very few ‘types’ of building - homes, churches, community space.  Post 1800 buildings have been designed and constructed for specific purposes, making them more difficult to re-use.  If we start with a  structural shell and flexible internal wall arrangements with central services shaft, the building would be easily converted at the end of its functional life or when subject to a change of owner

          Change behaviours and values - how we use our buildings needs to change, our respect for energy use and the consequences of our actions - how do we make the right choices

          work with stakeholders - there is a lot of knowledge and research on this subject, therefore using the specialists within the livery companies can assist with compilation of guidance documents

What can the Government do to incentivise more repair, maintenance and retrofit of existing buildings?

[RT – WCoC CAC]

 

17.

          VAT - reduce VAT on retrofit to encourage green home improvements

          Training - invest in conservation officers for local authorities, conservation and heritage needs to be taken more seriously in terms of sustainability.  Ensure training for construction to understand how traditional (solid wall) buildings work differently to modern (cavity wall) buildings

          Education for general public who may be carrying out home projects, or as client, leading projects but with no construction knowledge

          Planning Incentives - to take into account the positive impact of heritage within a new development, the cultural significance that adds to our health and wellbeing

          Invest in research and development to support energy efficiency in historic buildings - heritage solar panels, discreet wind turbine, alternative forms of heat source

          Link to existing schemes such as Eco Church

          Introducing biodiversity and habitats to existing and new developments

          Policy to provide a consistent direction of travel to achieve carbon zero

 

 

Historic England https://infogram.com/1pyyd1yn9kzgr3c3mdzrpmx5leiyr7dd071?live

 

Decarbonising the non-residential building stock https://www.buildup.eu/en/news/overview-decarbonising-non-residential-building-stock

 

Historic England, 2020   https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/planning-responsible-retrofit-of-traditional-buildings/responsible-retrofit-trad-bldgs/

 

https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/news/vat-on-retrofit

 

https://ecochurch.arocha.org.uk

 

[CFW Architects]

  1. Improvements to the existing housing stock is a massive part of the required change.
  1. The green deal scheme was too complicated and many companies did not even want to offer quotes under this scheme due to the complexity and the long payment delays of several months that installation companies had suffered under the scheme. Some companies even went bust while awaiting payment, which is especially ironic give that the government has previously criticise the late payment practices of some private developers.
  2. The re-use and environmental improvement of existing structures should be encouraged to reduce the carbon released during the construction of new buildings. The tax rates should be adjusted to encourage this rather that the perverse situation were refurbishments pay more tax than new builds.
  3. It does not make sense that it cost more to run a heat pump than to run a gas boiler to heat the same building.
  4. Passivhaus refurbishments and new builds should be encourage, as a high environmental standard, with recognition as a route to building control approval

Skills: What new skills does the industry need to address all of the above?

[David White, Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers]

We fully support the move towards achieving a nett zero carbon footprint within our industry.

We do not feel that within the skills of our trades, namely; bricklaying, wall tiling and roof tiling that there is sufficient suitably trained and qualified operatives available to meet the Governments target of completing 300,000 new homes per year – which equates to over 90 new homes per hour, nationally.

The skill set required to construct new build, green field developments is quite different to those required to rebuild, extend, and refurbish existing building stock and re-purpose for residential use. We focus all our current training on new build green field type developments, which needs to change to mesh with Government objectives.

Whilst most of the new housing stock is still built traditionally using brickwork and blockwork under traditional tiled roofs it is acknowledged that the modern approach to high intensity apartment living in many towns and cities may indeed rely upon steel and concrete predominantly. Skills training of the crafts that we support are focused presently on the traditional approach to home building and this will need to change to satisfy the demands of the new construction methods required to satisfy the zero-carbon goal.

Timber is being wildly advocated as sustainable product readily available for incorporation into zero carbon buildings. My daily experience working within the industry at present has shown me that we currently have a shortage of even the most fundamental of graded construction timbers, most still coming from overseas due to the prohibitive cost of locally sourced materials. Before anything else can change, this supply issue must first be resolved. In the alternate, Government needs to subsidise locally produced materials to level the price differential and thereby reduce the carbon waste through international transport of overseas goods. A carbon transport tax could be introduced, for example.

Minimal focus is placed on reducing our carbon footprint in current skill apprenticeships. Education of our next generation of trades people needs to instil these increasingly important values at an exceedingly early stage otherwise they simply will not be interested.

The development of alternate building materials cannot successfully be achieved without training our trades people in their use.

As our trades people develop and quite often support private homeowners they need to be provided with the training and skills required to competently give customers advice on the relative carbon impact of all the products and services they are offering.

Repurposing existing buildings requires a hugely different skill set to new construction and these skills need to be introduced into the training courses on offer. Which will require a material redesign of the course content to be valid.

May 2021