Chaos and confusion in the present, but a glimmer of hope for the future

If there were two aspects of government construction policy that, before this week, most in the industry would have been confident were here to stay, chances are they would have been the Green Deal and schools standardisation. But despite the amount of rhetoric devoted to these issues by ministers and policy makers over recent months, both areas have this week become mired in confusion.

At the start of the week, it was revealed that the prime minister intends to scrap the so-called “conservatory tax”, the reform to Part L that would have made it compulsory for homeowners to make energy efficiency improvements when carrying out other improvements, in a move which has undermined the primary anticipated driver for take-up of the Green Deal.

Meanwhile, over at education, officials have been quietly rowing back on their gung-ho enthusiasm for standardised school designs - a shift which, as Building reveals this week, means they will publish only “baseline” information on school design, leaving the rest to industry to work out.

It is difficult to see how, if they are burnt this time, companies will have the confidence to buy into any proposed sustainability policy in future

It all adds to an air of uncertainty that is hampering industry’s ability to direct resources effectively and suggests that despite progress made by chief construction adviser Paul Morrell, there is a lack of commitment at the heart of government to offering the industry a clearer direction.

When it comes to the detail of the two shifts, at least there are some positives to be drawn from the schools move. Many within the industry have long argued for the flexibility to develop their own standardised school components or designs within a basic framework, and will be relieved that Whitehall will allow them the opportunity to innovate in this way - even if they would have appreciated knowing it eight months ago.

The undermining of the Green Deal, however, is already creating a backlash within the industry. It is difficult to see how, if they are burnt this time, these companies will have the confidence to buy into any proposed sustainability policy in future - which surely isn’t the outcome that the government, in search of quick, cost-effective wins to propel it towards its carbon reduction targets - is looking for.    

The road to Rio

As the finishing touches are put to construction work on the Olympic park, some of the firms that have spent the past few years at the heart of the effort in East London are turning their sights to the stage for the next Olympics, in Rio. The chance to swap Stratford for a sunnier climate is made even more appealing, of course, by the scale of opportunity - the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics combined will create £35bn of construction work and spur an infrastructure investment of more than £500bn. The good news is that the London 2012 expertise has already caught the eye of those at the helm of the Rio programme - see our interview with Paulo Safady Simão and assessment of available construction opportunities. With the help of UK Trade & Investment, it’s to be hoped that more firms can follow the likes of Aecom and secure work on the programme, giving the sector’s achievement some more of the international recognition it deserves.

Sarah Richardson, deputy editor