Government construction adviser sets out his stall in his first interview since taking the post

Chief construction adviser Peter Hansford has said that finding out how the government can deliver low carbon buildings at an affordable price will be his priority as he works up a brand new industrial strategy for construction over the next six months.

Hansford (pictured), in his first interview since taking up the post in December, confirmed that he has convened an advisory council from the industry to help draw up the industrial strategy for construction, with names to be revealed next week.

The former president of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) said the industrial strategy, one of a number of such proposed documents trailed by business secretary Vince Cable in September last year, will outline a 10-year vision for the construction industry, linking up existing initiatives such as the construction strategy and the Low Carbon Action Plan.

In addition to firing the starting gun on creation of the strategy, Hansford also:

  • committed to driving forward the government’s construction strategy, including the agenda to reduce construction costs by 15%-20%, without major amendments
  • said he had already acted to bring together the implementation of this with an existing separate plan to reduce government spending by 15%-20% on building and civil engineering work
  • said he would introduce trial projects to demonstrate how to deliver low cost low carbon buildings.

Hansford’s appointment follows the departure of Paul Morrell, who while in post led the formation of the construction strategy and a study into how to deliver a sustainable construction industry which resulted in the Low Carbon Action Plan.

Hansford, who called for industry and government to focus on delivering “value for carbon” while at the ICE, said: “I’m actually looking at broader integration. How do the cost and carbon initiatives join together? Where does Building Information Modelling (BIM) sit across the piece, and how does BIM support both cost reduction and carbon reduction - because I firmly believe it does - [and] where does innovation sit in this?

“We’re going to be looking at bringing all those things together in the coming months.

“It’s not about change [in the construction strategy]. It may evolve, [but] it’s not about fundamental change - it’s about integration. The strategies we’ve got in place are the right onesWhat’s less clear is how they join together.

“The classic question is what is the relationship between cost and carbon. That’s the big one - we’ll be seeking to answer that.”

Hansford said this work would be pulled together in the forthcoming industrial strategy, and will draw on existing studies by the Green Construction Board and Anglian Water, that he said were “starting to show that reduced carbon can equal reduced cost.” He said he will be looking to launch trial projects in this area.

Construction minister Michael Fallon is expected to reveal early next week a list of senior industry figures to advise on the writing of the industrial strategy, which is set to be published in June. Hansford said the strategy would be a “vision for the construction industry for the next decade or so,” but said it was too early to say how it would affect firms on the ground.

Hansford said he had already merged the steering groups heading the implementation of the construction strategy and the Infrastructure Cost Review, putting Crossrail chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme in charge of a joint committee, with Network Rail infrastructure projects MD Simon Kirby running a procurement workstream and Phil Wilbraham, planning and programmes director at BAA, running a group looking after trial projects.


Whether his appointment signals the government is more interested in infrastructure than buildings
“I don’t believe I’ve got my job because I’ve come from infrastructure, I think that was coincidence, and no, that will not be the focus of my work, not at the expense of the other side.”

Whether the government lacks commitment to the green agenda
“I’m absolutely convinced the government sees the low carbon agenda as important. Why else would the [construction] minister [Michael Fallon] be the co-chair of the Green Construction Board? Just read his speeches.”

The forthcoming industrial strategy for construction
“It’s a medium-term strategy, a vision for the industry, and it doesn’t change the existing initiatives we’ve got, but crucially it demonstrates the linkages between them. It provides the coherence of why we’re doing cost and efficiency, low carbon, BIM. How will these things fit together?”

“I do think it [construction] is an innovative sector – but I think there are barriers to innovation. We want to find out what are those barriers and how do we unlock them.”

Hansford’s challenge ahead

Joey Gardiner

Peter Hansford is quite a different type of fish to his predecessor Paul Morrell. For a start, he harks from an entirely different sector of the industry than Morrell, a former buildings QS with a penchant for fine design. Hansford, in contrast, has spent a lifetime controlling major projects such as the Docklands Light Railway in the infrastructure sector, mostly at Nicholls Group, and has carried out strategic reviews of Network Rail, the Highways Agency and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.

He gives the impression of being likely to rely on charm as well as intellect to get his way - whereas Morrell did not always appear happy to suffer fools gladly.

A former ICE president, Hansford is a formidable networker with a sharp strategic mind who has spoken repeatedly about the need to build a low carbon infrastructure to power the country in the future.  

Hansford this week rejected the idea, expressed powerfully by Morrell after his departure last month, that the government is failing to grasp the economic opportunity from showing leadership on developing a low carbon economy. This does not square completely with his comments to The Engineer magazine in late 2010, when he said the government was not being a strong enough champion for sustainable change. Either way he leaves you in no doubt about his intention to put sustainability at the centre of his agenda.

The key task for his first six months in the job will be to create a coherent industrial strategy that not only sets out a vision for an industry that works more efficiently and effectively, but is also made relevant to clients, contractors and consultants by giving them a roadmap for how to get there. JG