Industry Insights – August 2020: Constructing the Future

By Jen Heil | August 28, 2020

Welcome to our second Industry Insights blog. This month, we’re looking at the government’s proposals for planning reform and the Welsh government’s social housing retrofit initiative. We’re also celebrating the first WELL Heath Safety certified building and reflecting on the construction sector skills gap 

Spotlight on Planning Reform: Bright New Future or Disaster Waiting in the Wings? 

Published on 6th August, the government’s white paper, Planning For The Future, proposes radical reforms to England’s planning system, with a stated intention to “streamline and modernise the planning process, bring a new focus to design and sustainability, improve the system of developer contributions to infrastructure, and ensure more land is available for development where it is needed”. Whilst the proposed reforms have been welcomed by some developers, promises of increased democracy, more affordable homes, beauty and sustainability have been met with scepticism, criticism and concern by others within the industry. 

The reforms would introduce a new US-style ‘zoning’ system, where certain areas are earmarked for automatic planning permission. This is ostensibly to speed up the planning process in order to better meet housing demand. This has led to some bafflement, as an extension of such permitted development schemes directly contradicts research findings published by the government just weeks earlier. The research, led by Bartlett School of Planning academics and published on 21st July by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), concluded that new housing created through permitted development rights in England since 2013 is more likely to be characterised by worse quality residential environments than housing created under the full planning permission process.  

The disregard of these findings, shown to impact a number of factors vital to the health, wellbeing and quality of life of future occupiers, has drawn criticism from industry leaders such as RIBA president Alan Jones and Mary Parson, chair of the Town & Country Planning Association. Both have called for the prime minister to abandon this “so-called planning revolution”, stating concerns that the proposals could lead to the exact opposite of the much-needed mix of affordable, age-friendly and sustainable housing. In fact, tucked away amongst the reform headlines is a note that the government plans to extend the current exemption of small sites from having to make  Section 106 payments  towards affordable housing. Positioned as a helping hand to assist developers to “bounce back from the economic impact of  coronavirus”, such a move would further reduce the small quantities of affordable homes that councils are already struggling to provide. 

Other concerns have also been voiced in regard to the impact on democratic input from local communities. The proposals claim to “give neighbourhoods and communities an earlier and more meaningful voice in the future of their area” but in practice the reforms would cut democratic input by half. Under the current system, there are two opportunities for accountability and oversight: one at the creation of a local plan and one at the final approval of a planning application. The reforms propose to move all democratic accountability to the plan-making stage, which effectively means that if you want to object to a new development you will have to have been there to contribute to the discussion several years before it was even proposed. 

Now is the opportunity to have your say on these reforms and you can respond to the consultation here. The consultation ends on Thursday 29th October 2020 at 23:45. 

Welsh Social Housing Retrofit Programme 

The Welsh government have announced a £9.5million programme to “reduce the carbon footprint of existing social housing in Wales, make energy bills more manageable for residents and provide new job and training opportunities. Part of the Innovative Housing Programme, the Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP) will find the installation of energy efficiency measures in up to 1000 homes owned by registered social landlords and councils. It is intended that the ORP will allow the sector to test different approaches to reach the goal of carbon neutrality and includes an innovation competition to support the piloting of innovative new solutions.  

Housing is responsible for 27% of all energy consumed in Wales and 15% of all demand side greenhouse gas emissions. Although the Covid-19 pandemic remains prevalent, the Welsh government have made a clear commitment to continue their focus on reducing greenhouse gasses. It is hoped that the technologies and skills created through this programme can then be rolled out across wider private sector homes, positioning Wales as a ‘first mover region’ for decarbonisation of homes, by reducing carbon emissions from around 300,000 social and fuel poor homes. 


First WELL Health Safety Certified Building 

Leading privatelyowned developer, manager and investor of real assets  RMZ is the first organisation globally to achieve the  WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management, at 41 properties across India.   

More than 100 organisations, encompassing over 500 facilities, have enrolled in the documentation-based program and begun to implement its guidance. The WELL Health-Safety Rating is an evidence-based, third-party verified rating for all new and existing building and space types. It focuses on operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans and stakeholder engagement strategies to help organisations prepare their spaces for re-entry in a post COVID-19 environment and instil confidence and trust among their staff, customers, stakeholders and broader communities. 

RMZ achieved the rating by implementing features across five categories: cleaning and sanitisation procedures; emergency preparedness programmes; health service resources; air and water quality management; and stakeholder engagement and communications resources to promote health and wellness. RMZ buildings feature touchless elevators and touchless water and hand sanitizer dispensers, and they implemented rigorous cleaning protocols and increased cleaning frequency. Access to sick leave and mental health recovery has been made available and plans put in place for “re-entry after an emergency event”. 

Their swift and leading response has demonstrated the critical role that buildings, and those who operate and own them, have to play in supporting and safeguarding people’s health and wellbeing. 


Addressing the Skills Gap 

As the industry finds its feet amidst ongoing disruptions resulting from the pandemic and looks to respond to the governments call to “build, build, build”, the question once again arises around how to address the increasing skills gap. 

The construction industry’s poor image has a detrimental impact on businesses’ ability to recruit and retain people with the right skills. CITB data shows that the overall appeal of the construction industry as a career option is low, scoring just 4.2 out of 10 amongst 14 to 19 year olds. So what can be done to change that image and highlight the fantastic and diverse opportunities available in this misunderstood industry? One enterprising professional thinks he has the answer: YouTube! 

Fred Mills set up The B1M in 2015 and, after a slow start, the channel has grown massively, now boasting 1.34million subscribers. Sharing weekly videos that explore everything from automated construction to the world’s most impressive mega projects, The B1M’s mission is to “fundamentally change the perception of construction on planet Earth – attracting more people to this incredible industry. Mills believes that drawing more people to the sector is as simple as showcasing the exciting work that takes place. Having started out as a one-man-band, running the YouTube channel as a side project, Mills now has a dedicated team helping him to get appealing content out there, working hard to simplify it so everyone can understand what’s happening and demonstrate how the industry can make a positive difference in the world. 

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