I have worked from home now for 12 years so maybe use Linkedin and other sources of information a bit more than most to keep upto speed with what is going on in the construction sector. It is interesting to see how organisations use social media its all its forms to inform and tell those how are interested what is important to them.
I made comment on how few people have either liked or responded on Nigel's article on a sector that employs 80,000+ and that's not counting the vast number of stakeholders. However the MPA only has 1850 followers. Other "material producers" are not much better, The Timber Products Manufacturing Association has 169, The Water Industry Forum 337 although WRAP does well at 15,673. That got me wondering why so few have responded, are they not interested, maybe they don't think there is an issue, are people bored of endless content and not engaging? I don't know the answer but wouldn't it be refreshing if someone from outside the sector in say Central Government, a Planning Authority, a consumer or anyone with an interest made a comment, whatever they had to say?
Maybe the sector is simply doing too good a job to be of any concern. When you look back at what the MPA's members have achieved over the past 20 years it is staggering. I was heavily involved with implementing 14001 at Aggregate Industries and from those first meetings in Bardon Hall (in the days when just the Estates Department and engineers occupied the building) to today's environmental performance it is hard to convey how impact has been reduced. All mineral producers seized the initiative and probably have pushed the boundaries of environmental performance as well as any other sector. The reductions in carbon content in producing materials, in particular cement is truly impressive.
Nigel talks about how we talk a good story on Global Warming and the route to net zero, all positive stuff. UK plc does though seem to lurch from one initiative to another. When taking about energy it's the big move to wind and solar and we are making good progress. Speak to the people who work in energy generation though and it's not all that straight forward. Over the past 24 hours with a high pressure weather system and low winter sun renewable low carbon generation contributed 29.7% of our energy so the balance is fossil fuels. However we are hellbent on shutting all the coal fired power stations (have to mention Drax - can't understand how that stacks up?) and reducing gas without really having an alternative. Nuclear seems the answer but we simply aren't that good at building new capacity. Anyone with a interest in energy should read "Sustainable Energy - without the hot air" written by David MacKay. As he explains its all about balance.
Equally as important David Mackay talks about reducing our consumption. We have the latest missive on banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Again when you read articles from people who know their subject they will explain why that target will be pretty hard to meet. Bets on that the policy will change. I wonder how much thought has been given to whether this is actually achievable? Are there enough rare earth metals available globally to supply demand to make the batteries, will we have the infrastructure in place to charge vehicles?
Lets then jump to housing and heating our homes. A few weeks ago big fanfare that we are going to ban new gas boilers in a few years time and will have to use ground or air source heat systems. Again it was down to people who know their stuff to explain to Government why that won't work, you will find that that idea has been quietly dropped. However in all the hype about getting rid of gas boilers there was no mention of building new homes that are built to higher standards and actually use little energy to heat (or cool) them. I am a fan of Grand Designs but that only relates to a handfull of projects a year that have exceptional environmental performance. RIBA published a report last week on the shocking energy performance of the nations housing stock. There lies the real problem, the 20m or so houses in the UK that will still be here in another 50 years time that simply have poor environmental performance. They suggest a National Retrofit Strategy - good luck with that one.
On top of climate change and global warming COVID has become central to our lives and maybe for the long term. The impacts (over and above health of course) are far reaching and will change how we live and work. Lockdown clearly has had a devastating impact on many businesses but on the upside many have continued to operate, some have thrived. Transport and commuting has dramatically reduced and there appears to be a strong movement in recognising that you actually can live quite happily with less. A positive outcome for the construction sector is that there seems to be an appetite to build more and better infrastructure, more hospitals, in fact it seems to be more more more. It would be nice though if we could deliver these projects like Cross Rail and the various half built hospitals that Carillion were involved with. I would also knock HS2 on the head and divert the spend elsewhere not last digital infrastructure, bringing our highways network upto standard, building more useful rail links for example linking the northern cities and industrial power houses.
Whatever the strategy any Government adopts it will require construction to deliver. Given any shopping list it would magically appear (after too many years getting planning permission/approval!!) the raw materials would be supplied, it would be constructed and we would move onto the next project. As demonstrated by previous national infrastructure projects no thought would be given to what resources are required or where they are coming from. Equally little thought is given to refusing the coke mine because of its environmental impact. Localism at it's best. All too easy to say lets refuse it and get it from somewhere else and ship the materials half way round the world in doing so. Another fact - 15 of the largest ships produce more Nitrogen and Sulphur oxides than all the cars in the world - Source - www.industrytap.com).
Back to Nigel's first point - it’s time for industry to stand up, be proud, be counted and challenge more or my take that we need to be taken seriously. I was on the MPA's Mineral Planning Committee for many years and we spent a lot of time working out how to engage with "Government" and it's agencies. Ministers would be invited to speak at conferences and often not show up or if they did for a 20 minute slot with no questions. Key and important bodies like the Environment Agency wouldn't then engage that often (noting that it may have changed), there were many more. Dialogue needs to be far more open and transparent in all directions. Wouldn't it be great in the budget tomorrow is was announced with regard to the Aggregates Tax that (1) 25% is retained by the operator and used locally (1) 25% is used to set up a UK Head of Infrastructure and Resources (3) 25% is given to Mineral Planning Authorities to employ some staff and (4) 25% given to anyone who can provide good timely data and content to promote the sector. When we can magically spend £12Bn (£12,000/head) on Track and Trace the industry deserves better than £400m going into Government coffers.
I have huge respect for those working in trade associations and of course the MPA. You are constantly pushing the message and trying to have a seat at the top table, with the very people who ultimately make define the strategy, create policy and pass statute to make it happen. It appears to me that they carry on regardless and everyone picks up the pieces and makes it work.
Finally maybe Prof Van-Tam could be persuaded to do a weekly briefing for us - "Next slide please - This week we consumed 600,000 tonnes of construction materials, produced 200,00m3 of concrete and 40,0000 tonnes of asphalt so the rolling average is flat, increasing slightly. Next slide please - this graph shows the rolling annual average of new planning permissions for aggregates which shows supplies are not being replenished. We will run out...............