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Construction leaders look to the future at NBS summit

by Samiyah Mokaddus
virtual event

Key players in the construction sector set their sights firmly on the future at this year’s NBS summit, with sustainability, building safety, and technological innovation all emerging as core talking points.

Day one of the virtual event, hosted by NBS, started with the focus of ‘building back’ following the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing importance of sustainability and safety within the sector.

Industry-wide contingency plans, were discussed to ensure improved levels of build quality, with the government-backed ‘Construction Playbook’ taking centre stage.

Following from day one, discussions also focused on sustainable practices that were moving the needle on delivering net-zero emission targets, and how the role of digital adoption will continue to be a key driver in delivering higher standards of safety and efficiency across the board.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP, UK Construction minister, said: “We’re now on a clear course out of lockdown, but it’s vital that we implement the learnings from this devastating pandemic and fulfil our often-stated commitment to build back better, greener, safer, and fairer in its aftermath.

“This means changing the way we plan, design, and deliver new infrastructure, homes, schools, and hospitals.

“From now on, we need to design and construct buildings that are more energy and heat efficient, use fewer materials and more sustainable ones, and promote biodiversity.

“To make this happen, digital and offsite manufacturing technologies need to be placed at the heart of the ‘transforming construction’ challenge, primed to drive improved performance of built assets and minimise the impacts of climate change.

“Which is why the framework delivered by The Construction Playbook is so vital.”

The minister added: “Before I finish, I want to be really clear about one thing. Whilst nobody should underestimate the importance of all the work I have just outlined, nothing is more important than ensuring people are safe in their homes.

“We are determined to learn the lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire and bring about a fundamental change in both the regulatory framework and industry culture, creating a more accountable system.

“The Construction Playbook sets out that the drive for quality and the required safety outcomes, rather than lowest cost, must start at the start.”

Responding to Hackitt

Many of the topics covered were in response to Dame Judith Hackitt’s Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, which were outlined at the NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit: The Digital Future, last autumn.

In the review, she had explained that the Building Safety Bill, and the creation of the new regulators, will help the sector to change both technically and culturally, moving away from decisions that result in the ‘cheapest solution’ to one where safety and quality become paramount.

She had also warned that new regulators, such as the newly introduced Building Safety Regulator and Construction Product Regulator, will have real bite if they processes failing to be upheld.

The first day of the event included other incisive sessions. Ann Bentley – global board director at Rider Levett Bucknall and member of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) – spoke about the CLC’s roadmap for recovery and future drivers for change.

Director Jaimie Johnston and head of Global Systems Bryden Wood gave an informative talk on how the development of cross-governmental data sets is delivering new insights into the public sector in terms of design and construction systems.

The second day took a look at sustainable construction, where Gary Clark, chair of the RIBA Sustainable Futures Group, led on defining measurable sustainability goals and the specific design principles to achieve them.

Carlos Muriel, associate director of Architecture and Workplace at Atkins, had joined with a case study on the future of office design and specification-wide strategies.

Alistair Kell Principal, chief information officer at BDP, added unique insight into how digital technology is making a difference.

Looking ahead

Reflecting on the two-day event, Richard Waterhouse, spokesperson for NBS, said: “The next stage for the construction industry is to bounce back from the devastation caused by the last 18 months through a focused and strategic approach.

“Now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we need to build on the momentum that digital technology has afforded and continue to put sustainability and safety at the heart of every construction decision.

“That’s what makes these summits so special: it gives built environment professionals’ practical, take-away advice that they can implement into their day-to-day decisions.

“We’ve seen leaps and bounds in the progress that’s being made, and digital technology is now becoming the backbone to better standards of building, throughout every stage.

“I’m excited to see how things have improved at our next event.”

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