Editorial: What can we read into all this strategy speak?

7 July 2011

Denise Chevin, Acting Editor, CM

Anyone stumped for some summer reading is certainly spoilt for choice – if they can bear a busman’s holiday, that is. If you fancy swapping your John Grisham paperback for a few real-life legal thrills and spills, you could do worse than swot up on the Bribery Act, which comes into force this month. A new survey claims that the industry is still clueless about it (page 8).

Or what about that other legal block buster, the Construction Act, which is being amended for the autumn. As legal columnist Stephen Clarke explains, changes to the payment provisions will catch out those who are unprepared in what are rapidly becoming more litigious times (see page 24). Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

If these seem too heavy, a slightly easier read can be had in the numerous important policy documents emanating from Whitehall, all of which need careful digestion and pause for thought.

It may have its gaps, but the appearance of a low-carbon construction plan is almost a miracle in itself. The government’s aim is to be the greenest yet – must be the one of the few policies it hasn’t done a U-turn on.

We’re not any further forward in knowing how the green deal will pan out, and whether we can expect any more sticks. But in challenging and supporting the industry to come up with a plan to produce a 50% reduction in carbon emissions in a decade, it is just the sort of commitment we need to start investing in.

Its companion policy,the Government Construction Strategy, again is a series of broad-brush strokes for reducing costs, through integration, building information modelling and squeezing frameworks. In future contractors will have to pitch their bids harder by measuring their tenders against departmental yardsticks. It will take time to flesh out the bones, but luckily the industry is being drawn in to help make it work through a steering committee and associated task group.

So far, chief construction adviser Paul Morrell deserves a massive pat on the back for attempting to ensure that what becomes best practice across Whitehall filters down to the town halls. And that means quick payment, and simplified pre-qualification procedures. If those messages aren’t getting through, then do make a fuss. 

Morrell makes enough of the right noises to give smaller firms that have long felt shut out from public work hope that the door could be opening slightly wider. But going to the market while trying to retain the sense of trust and partnering that has built up on many frameworks will nonetheless be a difficult manoeuvre. 

The steering committee driving through efficiencies and best practice in procurement should certainly set its sights towards the east. Stratford bares witness to one of the more remarkable performances the industry has turned in.

At the heart of it has been a client with the clarity and vision to make the project a world leader in terms of efficiency and the welfare of staff. Feats such as this are mammoth team efforts.

A key force in its success has been the construction director. And as LOCOG celebrates the one-year countdown to the start of the Games, Howard Shiplee’s drive and passion in marshalling it through deserves our praise.

Denise Chevin, acting editor


There was success for Construction Manager last month when it won the International Building Press’s Subscription Magazine of the Year Award. Judges praised the magazine’s design and content, which they said was authoritative and highly relevant to its audience.

Vox pop: What do you think of the government’s Low Carbon Construction Action Plan?

Adam Mactavish

Director of sustainability, Cyril Sweett

It’s encouraging to see the breadth of initiatives included across a range of different areas, either ongoing or planned. A key aspect that needs pushing is the drive to reduce complexity at virtually every level, particularly ways of measuring performance using things like SAP, and how embodied and operational carbon might link to each other in an overall carbon assessment method if that were to happen.

Interesting that there’s very little in the way of regulatory initiatives proposed. But history over the past 20 years points to regulation as the most powerful driver for action. Uptake of the Green Deal may need a stick to go with various carrots being put out there.

Robert Lambe

Chair of Willmott Dixon’s Re-Thinking sustainable development strategy

There’s aren’t any particular surprises being announced; it’s what’s not in the report that needs consideration.

I’m particularly concerned about post-occupancy evaluation, which I’d like to see adopted more widely, looking at performance in use and feeding that back into the system, which is fundamental to carbon efficiency. This doesn’t seem to have been taken forward, but it needs to be made mandatory on public sector buildings.

We focus on energy efficiency and retrofit at the moment.

There’s enough in here to be pleased with – it’s great that the green board has been established because everybody wants a piece of the action. And as long as it’s structured correctly with the right industry representation it can help us coordinate and take things forward.

Richard Diment

Director general, FMB

Generally very positive. The question is how it will be co-ordinated and what time scales are being discussed.

It will depend on who joins the green board, and whether it becomes a machine for action rather than a talking shop. I’d like to see someone on the board representing the smaller companies, particularly SMEs in the domestic sector as most of the work that needs doing is on the existing housing stock.

John Connaughton

Head of sustainability, Davis Langdon

I’m generally positive. What makes this a bit different from the run-of-the-mill exhortation to improve construction performance is that at least there’s an action plan, and a structure for going forward, though it doesn’t go quite far enough. Embodied carbon and measurement of carbon is still left up in the air. The report acknowledges what’s being done here but reaches no conclusion. In the rush to do something, people have become confused and there are competing methods and reporting systems.

Hywel Davies

Technical director, CIBSE

Use of DECs and EPCs are still very tentative. UKGBC is very keen on DEC being extended to non-public buildings, and report says DCLG will consider the options, but doesn’t commit. Very good intentions here, but up to how it goes forward and nail some of these things to the floor.

Contact us

Do you have an opinion on any of this month’s articles? Email: construction-manager@atompublishing.co.uk

Feedback: Design managers, construction and education, global data standards, asbestos regulations

Design manager input crucial

Richard Dodds MCIOB, director, Construction Matters

Your article in June’s CM (“Let’s hear it for the design manager”) about an intermediary between the designer and the constructor has not only been lacking for at least 45 years in the industry, but is a real necessity.

As a QS I have been engaged by architects, and sometimes clients or contractors, and I not only do the number crunching but often become a diplomat between the two principle parties.

It is good to hear that most contractors now have their own design managers in-house. They are presumably senior contract managers or specialist staff that have “hands-on” experience of construction and a sound knowledge of the supply chain and subcontractors. More than likely their role is to represent whoever engages them, which is rarely the client or the end user.

I have always been amazed that on most contracts there are always “knots” in the natural delivery process.

This is normally a result of “lack of time or thought” whereby initial costings and designs are rushed through the funding process, resulting in changes to the contract scope. This is predominately due to lack of architectural or engineering detail, leading to misunderstandings on the part of the contractor, leaving them to look for excuses or reasons for delays, changes of scope and additional costs.

Every party in the process should have reasonable time to deliver accurately and efficiently in a correctly predetermined timescale. That will never exist, but can the necessary timescales not be properly established?

We canvassed students in 1970

Richard Dodds MCIOB, director, Construction Matters

Recent items in Construction Manager regarding closer engagement between employers and prospective students for the construction industry gave the impression that this was a new approach.

In 1970, as principal lecturer and team leader of the BSc building degree submission of Leeds Polytechnic to the visiting panel of the CNAA Building Board, we were successful in gaining permission to present a degree course in building to prospective schools, institutions and industry. It was the first new degree to be offered by the newly formed Leeds Polytechnic.

Prior to this the design team had visited several major national building and construction organisations to discuss the proposals for the future needs of industry. The late Sir Peter Shepherd of Shepherd Construction called his regional managers to the York headquarters to meet the curriculum team and to discuss the pre-circulated degree document and course structure. From the start, the third year training exposure was seen as an essential component of the course.

Another industry link was the final-year project presentation week. All final year students were presented with a large project management exercise. Teams were created with team leaders. All companies supporting the industrial training third year programme sent observers.

The advantages to the undergraduates included further development of their presentation skills and offers of employment.

Global data standards needed

Anne-Marie Walters, global marketing director, Bentley Systems

The global economy has created new challenges for plant owners, engineers, and designers. Under pressure to reduce project timescales, slash costs, and leverage all available resources, there is now a strong drive towards global, multi-team co-operation.

But too many of these projects are jeopardised due to cost overruns and time delays. The reasons are many, from poor design efficiency and resource planning, to dysfunctional distributed project teams. For owners, the result is often a delay in the start-up and operation of the project.

Given the economic climate, with the emphasis on cost reduction and shorter project timescales while improving plant performance and safety, the lack of effective collaboration across the global supply chain is unacceptable. The global commitment to ISO 15926 should be the platform for true, open co-operation. Without doubt, a globally accepted data standard is key to driving down costs.

But it is only by leveraging a totally open data model in real time that the global supply chain will be able to collaborate cost effectively to deliver improved performance in plant design, build, and operation as well as real quantifiable value.

Let’s get asbestos regs right

Keith Blow FCIOB

I have just looked at the article in June’s CM, “A health policy that’s fit for purpose”. When referring to other more specific regulations under the subtitle “Health and the law” it refers to the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002. Having seen a number of people die from asbestos-related disease and having been involved in this side of the health and safety law for many years now, I do feel professionals such as me and the author need to be accurate. The legislation in question is the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 and is a vital part of managing this dangerous and potentially life-threatening material.

Too preoccupied with software

JT via CM website

Some 93.5% of the construction sector is made up of private contractors employing less than 13 people; 0.66% employ between 80 and 1,200 or more.

I think building information modelling is being overstated and the government needs to provide more training at site level rather than its preoccupation with software. Hasn’t helped the NHS despite all the similar rhetoric when IT was to be its saviour.

We need a shift of emphasis to meet our carbon targets

The sustainability agenda has focused on energy efficiency of buildings, but what about their performance, asks Mark Gaterell

The government’s response to the Innovation and Growth Team (IGT) low carbon construction recommendations is critical to the future of the industry. A consistent policy framework is essential for reassuring industry about its direction, that the investment in skills, recruitment and operational changes are for the long-term and it should resist being shaken by any shorter-term expediencies.

An essential part of the transition to a low carbon economy is the need for the government to recognise that delivering high levels of energy efficiency today is only the start — we must ensure that such efficiency can be maintained over the whole life of a given building, often in the face of great uncertainty. Introducing this so-called “resilience” in buildings through effective retrofitting and new build is likely to be the cheapest way to deliver our challenging carbon reduction targets.

What’s missing so far is any evidence of what really works. Does better insulation mean more comfortable, healthy living conditions or just suffocating homes susceptible to overheating?

Refurbishing the UK’s housing stock is in itself a vast job. It’s estimated that to meet the targets a city the size of Cambridge needs to be refurbished every week for the next 10 years. It would be a very expensive white elephant if properties simply become more efficient in the short term at the expense of their whole-life performance.

Worryingly, however, we still seem to struggle with being able to deliver buildings that perform as designed even under today’s conditions. The evaluation of a building’s actual performance is not a standard part of the construction and commissioning process. There continues to be an assumption that a building will simply perform according to the design specification. Research has overwhelmingly shown, however, that construction quality and how a building is used are critical factors, with huge variations in energy consumption from identical buildings.

It is widely recognised that we have to bridge this gap between design and in-use performance, but this means being brave enough to share lessons from our failures as well as celebrating successes. Only having done this can we begin the essential task of learning how to design and build in such a way that we achieve projected levels of energy consumption.

More attention is also needed to the levels of awareness and understanding of sustainable construction issues. The Green Deal will bring the issues and some of the practicalities to the attention of more people, but authoritative, reliable advice is needed on the available technologies and the choices involved. For many it’s a new market and for the sake of the reputation of low carbon construction, the emphasis needs to be on the quality and cost-effectiveness of any measures, but we must also be honest about the sensitivity of different technologies and choices to changing future conditions.

The government’s response to the IGT recommendations offers an opportunity to address some of these issues. The development of a joint government and industry board is to be welcomed as a vital first step, but much will depend on the exact terms of reference.

Its acknowledgement of the need to establish the necessary evidence base as well as developing mechanisms through which consumers can be confident that their investment in energy efficiency or renewable energy technologies will deliver the benefits anticipated, safely and reliably, is again critical if we are to meet our targets.

Mark Gaterell is Professor of Sustainable Construction at Coventry University and leads the Low Impact Buildings Grand Challenge Initiative

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