Techniques that are common place in much of Europe and North America are still relatively rare in the UK. If we’re to compete in the global market we need to catch up - and soon
Britain is at risk of encountering a major skills gap in the construction industry if the sector does not catch up with sustainable building practices elsewhere in the world.
As other European countries, including Germany, Austria and Sweden, continue to lead the way in sustainable construction and design, British firms are falling behind in the race to develop more sustainable buildings.
New government regulations expected to come into effect in 2016 will require all new homes built in the country to be zero carbon. The same regulation is due to apply to all new non-domestic buildings – including offices – by 2019. It is fair to say therefore, that time is getting very short.
In addition to regulatory changes, there is also anecdotal evidence of increasing demand amongst consumers and occupiers for more environmentally considerate buildings.
Innovative building techniques, such as cross-laminated timber, which reduces construction time, waste and energy needed to heat buildings, is widely utilised in many European and North American cities
This is why sustainability forms a central part of Lend Lease’s commercial regeneration project at Stratford, The International Quarter (TIQ), where we are delivering more than 4m sq ft of new office space.
At The International Quarter we are designing the office space to suit the specific needs of the companies and staff who will occupy them – an approach that we believe will significantly improve the sustainability of the development.
‘Activity-based working’ is a new concept in the UK that focuses on de-coupling employees from their desks, enabling them to use the office in a way which suits them, rather than the other way around. In effect, this means occupiers require less space, generating significant cost savings as well as reducing the environmental impact of the building.
Lend Lease has already delivered activity based working fit-outs at a number of its commercial developments in Australia such as the Commonwealth Bank building in Darling Street, Sydney. The building houses 6,500 employees but only needs 5,400 desks.
Whilst steps are being taken across the board, Britain is on the whole still falling behind other European countries, where sustainable construction methods have become the norm in their home markets. Innovative building techniques, such as cross-laminated timber, which reduces construction time, waste and energy needed to heat buildings, is widely utilised in many European and North American cities.
In Britain, however, such techniques have yet to progress beyond piecemeal application, particularly in the residential sector – something we believe needs to be addressed now in order to avoid sleepwalking into a skills gap in the future. We are playing our part to help in this. For example, at our Elephant & Castle regeneration project in central London for example, we are planning on using cross-laminated timber for some of the 2,500 new homes we are delivering over the next 10 years.
Whilst some steps in the right direction are clearly being taken, we believe that much more can – and should – be done. Before attempting to innovate the way in which we deliver sustainable developments, we must first play catch up with the rest of Europe even to reach a level playing field.
Provided we are able to close the skills gap that currently exists in this space, I would like to think that British-based companies will have the potential to become leaders in this important and fast-changing area.
Jon Kirkpatrick is head of sustainability at Lend Lease EMEA