In the past, the construction industry has missed out on European research grants. But now, with a huge round of funding up for grabs, it's time to stand up and be noticed
Construction has not featured highly in the European commission's research funding programmes between 1998 and 2006. Part of the problem is that the sector has a low profile - the construction unit within the commission's department for enterprise is dwarfed by its equivalents for the automotive, pharmaceutical or tourism sectors. Indeed, it took some heavy lobbying to save the construction unit from being subsumed completely in a previous commission reshuffle.
But now the industry fightback is under way. The European Construction Technology Platform is an industry-led project set up by the commission's research department. Its principal objectives are to mobilise the sector to take advantage of European research funds in a way it has failed to do before, and to provide a platform for the industry to invest in research and development for the future.
The next commission funding period or framework programme, known as FP7, is currently under discussion. If this chance is missed, there will not be another one before 2013. The stakes are high for another reason, too. The pot of available funding proposed by the commission is large: *70bn (£48bn) for the next seven years compared with *17.5bn (£12bn) over the past seven. A decision on the scale and priorities of FP7 is awaited as part of the European Union's overall budget discussions. These are proving to be problematic as they take also take in regional aid, the UK rebate, and the future funding of the common agricultural policy.
Commission-funded research project bids are selected by a panel of experts against set criteria. There are no national funding quotas; in fact to qualify for funding, research projects need to have partners from different countries. Although information is available on the CORDIS website, the DTI runs a co-ordination centre to help UK bidders through the bureaucratic process.
The stakes are high for another reason, too. The pot of available funding proposed by the commission is large: *70bn for the next seven years compared with *17.5bn over the past seven
More than 250 delegates - large construction firms, interest groups, universities and policy-makers alike - met for the first ECTP general assembly in Paris at the end of October to discuss potential priority areas. Some of the issues on the table were infrastructure, urban fabric, sustainable building, heritage and conservation, and construction materials.
Although it is a big step forward that this fragmented industry has finally got together and found a forum to discuss its future, it is critical the the ECTP and the national technology platforms that feed into it do not simply become talking shops. They have to deliver.
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Jill Craig is head of European policy at the RICS' Brussels office. Email email@example.com