DETR consultation document sets scene for clash between industry sectors over sustainability policy.
The government is expected to spark an industry row when it puts its draft strategy for sustainable construction out for public consultation by the end of this month.

The public consultation follows an earlier, limited consultation, after which consultants and contractors argued about their respective roles in the review.

Consultants said too much weight was being given to the views of contractor Sir Martin Laing’s sustainability focus group, which was set up in March.

In a letter to Bruce Sharp, who is managing the project for the DETR, Graham Watts, chief executive of consultants’ organisation the Construction Industry Council, wrote: “We are concerned about the antecedents of this group, which exists as a subset of [contractors’ body] the Construction Confederation and the inevitable perception that it is contractor-led … We therefore question whether the group is sufficiently balanced in its broad representation of the industry.”

The CIC said the way forward for sustainable construction was off-site production. “The sensible way is to move away from craft construction on site and instead to supply-attested components from the factory, where unskilled labour can be overseen and quality certified.”

The CIC was angered that the government’s earlier consultation document made no mention of design.

The council has called for a section on design to be added to the current draft. It would like this to address areas such as taking a “holistic approach to designing for sustainability, advice for clients on energy and environmental issues at the briefing stage, life-cycle costing, targets for energy consumption and CO2 emissions, and the integrated design of the building fabric and services”.

This group is a subset of the Construction Confederation … We question whether it is sufficiently balanced

Graham Watts on the Sustainability Focus Group

The Construction Confederation’s response to the restricted consultation blamed clients for their “marked reluctance to embrace the concept of sustainability … Indeed, they see it contributing to increased costs”.

The confederation has called on the government to beef up legislation rather than use fiscal measures such taxation to meet sustainability targets.

It has suggested that the “expansion and amendment of the Building Regulations could be an effective way of driving this process forward”.

It said: “There is a considerable risk that they [fiscal measures] would not change behaviour in the way intended.”

Rudi Klein, speaking for the Constructors Liaison Group, which represents subcontractors, disagreed: “We support the drive to bring sustainability into construction … We see this as an opportunity to root out waste, which is the underlying theme of Egan. If the government is going to be serious, it needs to look at fiscal policy to encourage lower energy emission.”