Brian Berry of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) explores why SMEs should be at the heart of the government’s plans for green construction to help them conquer obstacles
This year, the UK will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP 26. It’s a great opportunity for the Government to show global leadership with ambitious and impactful policies that tackle climate change and decarbonise all aspects of our economy.
We will not deliver the Government’s target of a 68 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2030, or net zero by 2050, if we do not reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions from our homes. This is a challenging area, and the Committee on Climate Change used its Sixth Carbon Budget to highlight the need for a national programme to improve insulation across the UK.
SMEs AT THE HEART
Small to medium-sized (SME) housebuilders should be at the heart of Government’s green building plans as pioneers of low carbon, high-performance homes. According to the FMB’s House Builders’ Survey 2020, we know that many SME housebuilders already build to high environmental standards, sometimes driven by the demands of environmentally conscious-clients, sometimes driven by a forward-looking business model.
New regulations are accelerating the green agenda in new build, including the Future Homes Standard, which will require an uplift of 31 per cent in energy efficiency on all new build from this year. The Bill will also mandate biodiversity net gain on all housebuilding sites.
However, after what has been a very difficult year for society and business, it is clear that SME housebuilders need the Government to do more to remove the structural barriers they face to building, so that there is the capacity and resource to adapt and respond positively to these changes. This includes addressing the skills shortage in construction, which continues to hamper output in the SME housing sector. Our House Builders’ Survey confirmed that we will need more qualified construction managers to oversee the build process and ensure that the work was done to the revised standards. But construction managers are in short supply, with 41 per cent of my members struggling to recruit into this position pre-pandemic.
GREEN JOBS TASKFORCE
Without a plan to plug the skills gaps in construction, we will not have the people we need to deliver low carbon homes at scale. The FMB is calling on the Government to use its Green Jobs Taskforce to develop a nationwide training programme that will upskill the existing workforce and encourage young people into the building industry through high quality apprenticeships.
Elsewhere, planning is still a problem. It is not uncommon for my members to tell me that they are waiting one year for a determination on a non-controversial site. This not only causes frustration and lost income for builders, but it will make it harder for the Government to reach its housebuilding targets. Greater investment in local authority planning departments is needed so that under-pressure councils have the resources they need to manage these inquiries, and builders can get on with delivering green homes.
Achieving biodiversity net gain will be much more difficult on smaller sites, especially the brownfield sites that SMEs will typically build out, and policy makers need to understand this.
While we know there are many small-scale measures that can make a difference, like bat boxes, lifting fences and planting trees, large-scale measures like sustainable drainage systems and wildflower meadows are not viable on sites of five units. If SMEs are to play a role in fixing the housing crisis, net gain should not become just another tax on development that prices out local builders.
A focus on future homes shouldn’t forget Britain’s 28 million existing homes, many of which are energy inefficient, and 85 per cent of which will still be in use in 2050.
To set up the UK for success in achieving our net zero targets, a national retrofit strategy that tackles carbon emissions from these buildings should be brought forward.