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CN Briefing: Homes School; government sustainability cuts; Jim O'Sullivan; Willmott Dixon's low-carbon office refurb

It’s been a frustrating year for sustainability professionals in construction.

While a lot of great work continues to go on within the sector, the message from government could not have been less promising.

There have been three major blows to sustainable housing in particular this year.

First, in early July, the government quietly scrapped Allowable Solutions and its zero-carbon homes policy, on the basis that it could help ensure planning decisions are made more quickly.

I had written only a year earlier that the added costs of building to the Zero Carbon Standard had halved in the previous two years – a major reason why the industry despaired at this decision.

Next, and in the same month, the struggling Green Deal was finally put out of its misery.

Few were upset to see the policy go – but there was sadness over the hash that government had made of it and disappointment over what a missed opportunity the whole scheme had been.

Finally, in the last few months, the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s proposed cuts to feed-in tariffs have caused great uncertainty in the renewables sector, causing a number of firms to go bust and prompting dire warnings of a ‘shadow’ industry left in 2016.

After reading all of that, it might sound like there isn’t much hope.

With government seemingly keen to cut regulation wherever it can, it is the construction industry itself that will need to take the lead.

And that is what a group of contractors are trying to do, in partnership with other organisations, by launching a new Homes School, the latest subset of the Supply Chain Sustainability School.

Wates, Willmott Dixon, Lovell and Kier are all partners, along with developer Grosvenor and housebuilder Berkeley Group.

The aim is to share sustainability best practice with the supply chain via an online learning platform, building on the already-established model that works for the broader Sustainability School.

As Lovell central procurement manager Rob Worboys said at the launch, the construction industry is doing “exactly what the government wants us to do” – getting together and forging a way forward without top-down legislation forcing it to.

For the school to truly achieve success at a wide level, though, it will need the involvement of volume housebuilders, who are currently conspicuous by their absence, with Berkeley the first, and so far only, one on board.

I understand that a second major housebuilder is close to joining as a partner, with another couple in the pipeline, too.

It’s great that contractors are taking the lead on this – but the industry will need those housebuilders’ support if it is to fill the void left by the government’s green cuts.

And hopefully, thanks to initiatives like the Homes School, improving sustainability in housing will not fall by the wayside in spite of a lack of support from those in power.

Rail and road

Highways England CEO Jim O’Sullivan spoke to reporter Jack Simpson at last week’s Construction News Summit, where he dismissed claims that management of the UK’s roads is set to be handed over to private firms – calling the idea “nonsense”.

And in non-roads transport-related news, the electrification of the Preston-Blackpool rail line has been put back a year by Network Rail, the second time its completion date has been rescheduled.

A low-carbon workplace

Willmott Dixon is carrying out a refurbishment project in London transforming an ageing office into a modern energy-efficient workplace. Our exclusive project report finds out how.

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