The government’s half-hearted approach to the Green Construction Board and now the Green Deal suggests a worrying lack of commitment to the eco agenda, says Richard Steer
There have been lots of predictions for 2012 and few, if any, deliver any sense of optimism. Casting my mind back, I recall that this time last year we had hoped for good things to come in the area of sustainable construction.
Out of the new coalition, with its Liberal Democrat green credentials, eventually arrived the Green Construction Board. Unfortunately, perhaps due to its late formation, we did not see much progress in 2011, and to be frank after reading the coverage in this magazine last week I believe that there is depressingly little desire at the top of government to make much happen this year either.
To be frank, I believe that there is depressingly little desire at the top of government to make much happen this year
I am not blaming the Green Construction Board. I applied to join their ranks myself last summer. I too was swept along with the apparent enthusiasm of ministerial advisers with high ideals, but seemingly low authority. There are some good people on the board, although I note it still lacks a professional working cost manager. The problem lies much further up the ministerial food chain. I think the mindset in the Treasury regarding sustainability issues in our sector is less towards supporting a new Green Construction Board and more epitomised by an attitude that says “Green Construction …? Bored!”
I am sure others share this view. I recently had a chat with Jonathon Porritt, one-time chair of the Green Party, as well as being a non-executive director of contractor Willmott Dixon. A man who you would imagine knows a few things about sustainability, the green agenda and its impact on construction. He confided that he would have been happy to assist the Green Construction Board, had he been asked. Other eco celebrities spring to mind, such as Tim Smit from the Eden Project in Cornwall or David Attenborough. Surely it would have been sensible for Her Majesty’s government to employ some of these high-profile green opinion formers to help shape policy for one of its most significant industrial sectors. Without the involvement of big names to help to create impetus, as well as headlines, some might see the “green” board as nothing more than a red herring.
However I suspect that no one wants to upset the chancellor, who has moved eco issues to the bottom of his wish list. At the last Conservative party conference, George Osborne declared defiantly that “we are not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business”. After this declaration, the U-turns kicked in faster than a ride at Alton Towers.
The mandatory introduction of display energy certificates all but disappeared and is now “under review”. The shock cut in feed-in tariffs immediately meant 4,500 employees at Carillion’s solar division had a miserable and worrying Christmas, having been put on notice. There are now grim predictions for the future of other contractors in this sector.
Without the involvement of big names to help to create impetus, as well as headlines, some might see the ‘green’ board as nothing more than a red herring
Then at the end of last year we had the release of the Green Deal, through which the government wants to reduce utility bills and cut emissions at no cost to itself. It was a 238-page paper, had £14bn worth of proposals and was soon backed by an apparent £200m of investment and incentives. The plan wants to encourage private companies to meet the cost of up-front activity to make homes more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprint. All sounds good, but the support has been muted at best.
I have yet to see a definitive reaction from the Green Construction Board to these proposals and I am not sure as to its level of input into the Green Deal. Perhaps it is not in its purview to do either. If it was not consulted, perhaps it should have been.
For not everyone is impressed with the Green Deal, and other plans affecting things such as improvements in loft and cavity wall insulation. The year closed with the chair of the Climate Change Committee, Lord Turner, criticising the government for the lack of ambition in its use of limited funds. Furthermore, conservationists such as the Institute of Historic Building Conservation point out that the new proposals for enhanced insulation won’t work in a good deal of the UK’s older housing stock and may in fact be harmful. It reportedly describes the Green Deal as “seriously flawed”.
It may be that 2012 is the year our industry is feted for its work on the Olympics, but somehow I don’t think it will be allowed to even approach the starting blocks in the race for global eco supremacy.
Richard Steer is chairman of Gleeds Worldwide