The future of the built environment is inextricably linked to the policies and commitments made by political parties. The next general election cannot come soon enough, says Thomas Vandecasteele

With the country now less than a year from the next general election, the future of the built environment stands at a crossroads. Recent pledges by both Labour and the Conversatives at their respective party conferences, as well as from the government in this last month’s King’s Speech, have ignited hope and scrutiny within the construction industry, prompting questions about the quality, sustainability and impact of the proposed initiatives.

Vandecasteele, Thomas

Thomas Vandecasteele is managing director of Legendre UK

The Labour Party, under Keir Starmer’s leadership, has made a bold commitment to deliver 1.5 million new homes across the country. It is seen by many as a beacon of hope in addressing the housing crisis.

Starmer also pledged to create new towns in areas boasting high economic potential, which presents an opportunity for growth and development within the sector. At Legendre UK, we fully support this – however, the success of these initiatives hinges on clear planning and robust collaboration to ensure that local communities reap the benefits.

Labour’s commitment to build more homes and towns poses a significant challenge with regard to carbon emissions

Creating new urban centres should not occur in isolation but as part of a comprehensive reform aimed at releasing more development sites across the nation. Additionally, it is worth considering that, however beneficial for local communities, Labour’s commitment to build more homes and towns poses a significant challenge with regard to carbon emissions. The urgent need to cut our carbon footprint by 2030 necessitates a fundamental shift in our approach to construction and development.

The next government must legislate on green construction practices and implement stringent regulations to ensure that these homes are built to last and with minimal environmental impact. Embracing eco-friendly materials, sustainable building designs and renewable energy sources in construction will be pivotal in reconciling housing development with environmental responsibility.

At Legendre UK, we have been measuring our carbon footprint and carbon intensity since 2021. The awareness that it creates for our team, clients and consultants is extremely valuable.

It helps us to make better decisions that not only consider cost and value but are also environmentally driven. As much as we need a top-down approach to drive the green agenda, without underestimating the power of well-thought regulation, we also need to drive this agenda from the bottom up – it is the industry’s responsibility to do so.

The balance between the quantity and quality of homes constructed is crucial if we are to responsibly address the housing crisis, and this balance necessitates skilled workers. The industry must emphasise the need for high-quality apprenticeships as a vital means of meeting these goals.

In his address to Parliament last month, the King highlighted the implementation of proposals under the current government to “reduce the number of young people studying poor quality university degrees and increase the number undertaking high-quality apprenticeships”. This shift in educational focus towards apprenticeships resonates deeply within our industry, recognising that skilled labour forms the backbone of quality construction and development.

An emphasis on high-quality apprenticeships is not just a matter of ticking a box, however; it is a strategic investment in the future of construction. Skilled workers bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, ensuring that the workforce is equipped not only with the know-how to build homes efficiently but also with a deep understanding of construction standards and sustainable practices.

At Legendre UK, we have witnessed successful instances where high-quality apprenticeships and sustainable practices have significantly impacted construction, ensuring better-built environments and reducing ecological footprints. We took on our first apprentice in September 2020.

Being able to train young staff members to our way of working has been a very successful experience. It is also the best way to demonstrate how attractive and exciting our industry can be and debunk some of the misconceptions.

The Conservative party has expressed intentions regarding apprenticeships, but the specifics of its plans remain elusive

We have renewed the apprenticeship programme every year across various disciplines including quantity surveying, design management and site management.

The next government must recognise the symbiotic relationship between the shortage of construction workers and the industry’s ability to deliver on housing promises. The Conservative party has expressed intentions regarding apprenticeships, but the specifics of its plans remain elusive.

What mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that apprenticeships are of high quality and aligned with the evolving needs of the construction sector? How will they incentivise businesses to actively participate in apprenticeship programmes? We require more than broad strokes; we would like to receive a detailed roadmap for the integration of apprenticeships into the fabric of our workforce.

The recent Cabinet reshuffle adds another layer of significance to the decisions shaping the built environment’s future. The appointment of yet another housing minister offered a fresh opportunity for alignment with the considerations of the industry.

In short, the future of the built environment is intricately tied to the policies and commitments made by political parties. The construction industry looks forward to a government that not only prioritises the quantity of homes but also places equal emphasis on their quality, environmental impact and localised development with skilled workers at the fore.

As the nation heads to the polls some time next year, the industry remains eager to see how these promises might materialise into actual policies that drive a sustainable and vibrant built environment for all.

Thomas Vandecasteele is the managing director of Legendre UK