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‘Count us in’, says HVCA president Burton

Martin Burton, president of the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA), believes that, despite the economic challenges we all face, there is huge potential for specialist contractors and equipment suppliers.

‘Count us in’, says HVCA president Burton

In these difficult and demanding times coping with challenges, and with constant change, has become part of our everyday working life. For, not only have we had to deal with one of the sharpest and deepest economic downturns in our history, we are also coming under ever-increasing pressure to meet increasingly steep carbon reduction targets.

Add to this the growing expectation that the industry must find effective solutions to its endemic waste problems – so as consistently to deliver “more for less”. Meeting the Government’s promise of a sustainable built environment will require a genuine team effort from everyone involved, including equipment suppliers and contractors.

The building engineering services sector is ready, willing and fit for purpose to play a key role in the delivery of this much-desired low-carbon future. We have the skills, the competence and the expertise (as well as the determination) required to do this job. We just need to be allowed to do it to the very best of our ability and that means we need a little support from our political leaders.

The specialist engineering sector was vocal in its support for the creation, by Government, of the post of Chief Construction Adviser. And we were among the first to applaud the subsequent appointment of Paul Morrell. His main objectives as the Government’s ‘construction czar’ are establishing whether UK construction in its present form is capable of delivering on the low-carbon vision; and identifying the reforms that will ensure that the industry is brought up to scratch.

Mr Morrell’s first major report, which was published earlier this year, introduces the concept of a Low Carbon Transition Plan, which depends for its delivery on “the industry working at its best”. This means we must grapple with three principal tasks: Firstly, we must de-carbonise our own businesses. Secondly, we must provide buildings that will enable our clients to lead more energy efficient lives. And, thirdly, we must create an infrastructure for the provision of clean energy and sustainable practices across the UK economy.

The report goes on to urge the construction industry to take up a position of leadership, to adopt new ways of working, to develop its skills base, and to “engage positively” with the overall issue of sustainability. Everyone in the building engineering services sector, HVCA members in particular, should say: “count us in”. Many of us are already taking a proactive role in promoting to clients the economic and environmental benefits of low-carbon products and systems.

We are already adapting our working practices to accommodate the developing requirements of the sustainability agenda. We have already overhauled our vocational qualifications and our training infrastructure to incorporate the emerging renewable technologies. We are already working to rigorous technical standards and guides to good practice that have been conceived and written and published by the sector itself.

We already have members qualified to self-certify “controlled services” under the Building Regulations, reducing the need for LABC inspection and sign-off.

Clients and building owners must be encouraged to think in the long as well as the short-term, and to take into account whole-life cost, rather than simply initial capital outlay. Architects and designers must test their concepts with colleagues in building engineering services, so as to arrive at an energy-efficient design that will prove genuinely carbon-friendly in practice. And they should only choose to work in partnership with contractors registered with Competent Persons schemes.

However, there is a big structural change needed to the tendering and procurement process. Principal contractors must start to involve their specialist sub-contractors early enough in the process to bring their expertise to bear on a project before too many decisions have been set in stone. And the Government, as the UK’s largest construction client, has to demonstrate best practice in terms of environmental responsibility, project management and fair payment. This is key to delivering truly sustainable new and refurbished buildings.

They must show boldness and imagination by laying aside traditional procurement methods and by experimenting with alternative scenarios. This will help to create a new commercial environment in which fully integrated project teams operate in a truly collaborative spirit, to the enormous benefit of themselves, their clients, the building, the nation – and the planet.

The Government’s public spending review made it abundantly clear that Government is looking
to construction to maximise its output and minimise its costs. We believe the building services sector can play a crucial role in achieving that hugely challenging goal so long as everyone in the supply chain adapts accordingly.

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