Construction industry professionals reflect on 2021 and predict 2022

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As the year-end rolls in, some of the UK’s leading construction industry professionals have provided their insights on the past year, and the hopes, fears, challenges and opportunities they feel the coming year might bring

2021 has been a challenging year in business. The uncertainty caused by the pandemic lingered, the Government’s Brexit deal caused serious upheaval for businesses trading around the world, and materials shortages obliterated build budgets and timeframes. But it’s not all bad, COP26 pushed sustainability to the forefront, and new innovations are beginning to take centre stage.

Several construction industry professionals share their thoughts on the past year and make their predictions about what’s to come in 2022.

Stuart Murphy, Founder & Inventor, TPGen24:

“Big infrastructure projects will remain at the top of the Government’s agenda as they look to level up the nation and revive the economy, post-Brexit and post-COVID. Nowhere will this be more so than in the development of more renewable energy generation plants across the country. The socio-economic benefits of such schemes are well known.

“Tidal lagoons provides one brilliant solution, not just for the generation of green baseline electricity, but also for the regeneration of many struggling coast communities, which desperately need investment to create opportunity. Further, positioned offshore they will also help to quell any major concerns from environmental groups concerned about major impact on coastal, natural habitats.”

‘Strengthen our talent pool’

Adrian Attwood, Executive Director, DBR Ltd:  

“Much discussed over the back end of 2021, I think we will likely see a far greater focus on driving up skills within the construction industry. Personnel shortages caused by all sorts of external factors, combined with global supply chain disruption are going to cut deep over the next decade and we need to be prepared to mitigate the effects.

“Part of this is to encourage more homegrown talent into the sector, making the case for construction as a set of professions with a rewarding, enriching career path. We need to kick off 2022 with a concerted effort to win over hearts and minds in every quarter of society. For our part, DBR will be teaming up with a handful of leading organisations in the construction and heritage sector to help drive greater awareness amongst young people around conservation construction careers. We hope other disciplines in the wider sector have similar programmes/initiatives underway to strengthen our talent pool across the board.”

Allen Wilen, Economic Director, Glenigan:

“Every Autumn/Winter we release our Construction Forecast which makes a set of authoritative predictions about sector-wide activity over the next couple of years. From our Economics Team’s calculations, we expect to see a rebound from the current output slump which has characterised the second half of 2021. Of course, much will be dependent on the resolution of the universally disruptive supply chain issues and the skills shortages caused by continued COVID outbreaks and Brexit wrangling.

“As material and logistics constraints ease, we would expect to see the value of underlying project starts (those less than £100 million in value), rising 7% next year and by a further 5% in 2023. This has been further supported by a complementary uptick in contracts awarded and planning approvals given in October and November 2021.”

‘2022 won’t bring an end to the materials and labour shortages’

Ian King, COO, Zeroignition:

“Looking forward, innovation and sustainability are reoccurring themes we are hearing loud and clear industry-wide. I think 2022 will bring greater focus on building with wood, not only to allow faster and lower-carbon builds, but also to increase the amount of off-site construction. One of the greatest benefits of modular construction is the enforced quality control.

“Within an off-site ‘factory’ type environment, greater safety checks can be made and monitored. This will help ensure each component meets the acceptable levels of industry standards and performance, including fire. In turn, this can help improve the integrity of the build quality in the finished product.

“There is no doubting, 2022 won’t bring an end to the materials and labour shortages, and this has the very real potential to negatively affect product specification especially in relation to fire, as specifiers scramble to get their hands on products to move builds along, without meticulously confirming it really is fit for purpose.

“As the Grenfell Inquiry continues, it will remain front and centre in the news, as it should. Progress will only be guaranteed when the industry and its regulators finally stand up, pay attention and commit to change.”

Construction’s ‘golden thread’

Erik Boyter, CEO, WindowMaster:

“Recent key sustainability strategy documents published by UK government are a significant improvement on previous lack of clarity, detailing incremental goals, funding and incentives.

“For our next steps, we might look to the European Green Deal’s ‘Renovation Wave’ which outlines how participating countries will double their energy-related building renovation rate over the next decade from 1% to 2-3%. While it’s a modest goal, imagine the impact if it gathers pace year-on-year.

“Significantly, the Renovation Wave is divided into eight subsections of actions to be taken by 2024. Along with its overarching timeline, it has built-in opportunities to achieve, and assess success much sooner, which allows for updating the strategy along the way if needed.

“UK Government should consider following suit by breaking down its targets into shorter blocks of time to continuously monitor the likelihood of meeting, or even surpassing, them.

“However, goals are little use without someone to help ensure consistency and wide adoption along the way. Construction’s ‘golden thread’ offers one way forward, and could be duplicated for sustainable construction purposes, with emphasis on embodied carbon and circularity, complemented by a rigorous, strictly governed emissions regulator.

“The end goal, of course, needs to be zero emissions, excluding carbon offsets, which don’t get to the heart of the problem.”

Lee Jones, Head of Manufacturing Solutions at NBS:

“We have been working to understand our work in terms of sustainability, but also how we can help our customers to transition to greener businesses by providing information and educational content, so there is a better understanding across the industry.

“This has to be a priority within our agendas. The change will only come with everyone’s commitment and joint effort. Next year we will see manufacturers preparing their roadmaps towards 2050. They must be more committed to low energy, circular production and provide more comprehensive information about end-of-life recycling or repurposing, while specifiers will be shifting towards choosing low carbon materials and passive systems. In the end, it boils down to attitudes towards the way we build and taking the steps towards a greener built environment.”

Rachel Davis, Director, Perega:

“Historically, I think sustainability has fallen by the wayside as a result of people passing the buck. In the context of climate change, 29 years is the blink of an eye. So, it comes down to each person and sector to take responsibility.

“Rather than waiting on Government to detail exactly how, or by when, action should be taken, or to hold firms accountable, we should take the initiative to ensure sustainability strategies are ambitious, and start making them a reality.

“Some companies and developments are already leading the way. They will be in a stronger position than most when Government enshrines sector-specific targets in law. Firms not yet starting to do the same would be wise to follow their lead.

“In the midst of the ongoing skills shortage, a lack of ambitious sustainability goals may also have a knock-on effect for recruitment as green-savvy graduates and other job seekers look for companies which align with their values and are taking genuine action, rather than merely paying lip service.”

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