Recent years have seen an unprecedented shift in thinking within the UK construction industry, driven by a national focus on addressing the climate and biodiversity emergencies. The construction sector is one of the biggest contributors to the UK economy, but also one of the most significant emitters of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The overriding message, therefore, has been one of how construction can adapt, in order to play its part in helping the country to meet the Climate Change Act’s legally binding target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In the rush to be seen as keeping ‘up to date’ with that message, however, is there a risk that work carried out under existing initiatives - such as the Construction 2025 strategy - is being forgotten?
What is Construction 2025?
Construction 2025 is a joint strategy from government and industry that was published in 2013. It laid out a vision for how the two parties would work in partnership for the future of the UK construction sector, represented by a series of proposals aimed at reducing the following.
● Initial construction costs and whole-life asset costs.
● Time scales for new-build and refurbishment projects.
● Greenhouse gas emissions.
● The trade gap between exports and imports for construction products and materials.
These four goals are summarised as cost, time, carbon and exports. To lead progress towards meeting the goals, the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) was established.
Since its creation, the CLC has undergone a series of restructuring exercises, and its activities subject to frequent review. This has been to either try and ensure the organisation’s effectiveness, or to respond to emerging industry events like the Grenfell Tower fire (and subsequent examination of building safety), Brexit, and Covid-19.
Responses to these events and ongoing issues have meant that the CLC’s remit has increased, and its ideas and initiatives have had to adapt. Nearly ten years on from the launch of the strategy and the creation of the CLC, mention of Construction 2025 within the industry as a whole is limited, and it is hard to find reference to it on the CLC’s own website.
The importance of Construction 2025 as an interim target
Nevertheless, themes from Construction 2025 continue to inform the CLC’s work, and the organisation does acknowledge the strategy in places.
For example, in August 2020 the CLC released a statement on net zero carbon and the climate emergency. Addressing a ‘green recovery’ from the Covid-19 pandemic, the statement said:
“The Construction 2025 Strategy and the Construction Sector Deal already include a commitment to reduce carbon emissions from the built environment by 50% and delivering this is a crucial step in the journey towards net zero carbon. Accelerating the transition to net zero is also intended to be an important outcome of the CLC’s post-COVID Roadmap to Recovery.”
Therein lies an important role that Construction 2025 can play as part of the push towards net zero - its position as a ‘stepping stone’ target.
We are all aware of the importance of acting now to reduce emissions, in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. We all know that we can’t continue with ‘business as usual’ until 2049, and then make the necessary changes to meet our goals for 2050. It is important to ‘act now’, but we must also ensure that we ‘protect tomorrow’. Otherwise, there is a danger that, in rushing to achieve demonstrable results today, we create unintended consequences that actually make it harder to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies.
Interim targets are therefore a useful barometer with which to measure progress and be accountable. They give us the opportunity to assess what actions have been taken, and to examine the impact of those actions to ensure that long-term goals are likely to be met in a fair and sustainable way.
Construction 2025 was published a long time before legally binding net zero targets were on the nation’s radar, but if a proper and thorough review of it is carried out then it will be possible to see how far we’ve come, and also set the path for where we need to go next.
Successes resulting from the Construction Innovation Hub
In setting out its strategy for 2021, the CLC published a briefing document that included an overview of the organisation. The Construction 2025 strategy was referred to within that overview:
“As part of the roadmap to 2025, the CLC agreed a £400 million deal between the UK Government and industry in 2018, focused on improving the performance and productivity of the sector, in particular by developing capabilities in Digital, Manufacturing and Performance. This included the establishment of the Construction Innovation Hub.”
The investment of money through the Construction Innovation Hub, combined with a commitment from government to procure buildings using the modern methods of construction (MMC) solutions that are developed as a result, is part of achieving the Construction 2025 strategy.
Funding has led to the creation of the consortium-led SEISMIC II project, which is showcasing the future of modern methods of construction (MMC) in the UK. The SEISMIC consortium is made up of: construction consultants Blacc; the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC); two offsite manufacturers, Algeco (formerly Elliott) and the McAvoy Group; Tata Steel; the Active Building Centre (ABC); and the National Composite Centre (NCC).
SEISMIC II will show how the shift to MMC can happen while meeting the Construction 2025 vision of lower costs and emissions, faster delivery and an increase in exports from the industry. It will show how standardised components - a ‘kit of parts’ - can be mass-produced to deliver better quality, performance and value for sectors including education and healthcare.
Traditional construction relies on bespoke systems created by individual manufacturers. A lack of standardisation means different systems are incompatible, causing errors, delays and defects. By contrast, SEISMIC II encompasses the production of wall, floor, ceiling and roof components that are all completely interoperable with a standardised light steel frame.
Centred around a digital approach to design, production and operation, the platform uses linked data from start to finish. This ensures that the building delivered on site matches the design intent, performs as expected, and can be managed efficiently throughout its life.
While the strategy may not be a feature of everyday conversation in the construction industry, projects such as SEISMIC II show that Construction 2025 has had an impact - and will continue to influence our goal of achieving better buildings and net zero carbon long after 2025 has passed.
About Tata Steel and common construction platforms
Tata Steel are involved in several initiatives to prove the concept of construction platforms and apply them across different sectors. Projects include the SEISMIC II platform, and the FASTtruss system for industrial buildings.