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Morrell sets out retrofit challenge

Contractors should take a key management role in the retrofitting of 26 million homes to meet carbon reduction targets, the chief construction adviser Paul Morrell has said.

“The traditional supply chain [for domestic retrofit] doesn’t have the capacity to respond to the scale of the challenge without a considerable degree of reorganisation of management and working practices, customer care, and customer after care,” he told H&V News sister title Construction News.

He was speaking at the launch of BEST, the construction clients show to be held on 17-20 October in Birmingham.

He said: “Retrofitting 10,000 homes a week will be worth £5-8 billion and so you don’t need a massive share of that to make it worthwhile doing.”

The challenge was for the industry and government, he said, to “create a market where there
currently isn’t one. Not surprisingly, if there isn’t a market, there isn’t someone ready to serve it.

“I think we have reached the point where the supply side needs to come up with some propositions to show how it could make that jump easier, rather than wait for the market to
come to them. Product manufacturers could ease [contractor] reluctance to invest by showing how retrofit can be done more profitably.”

Mr Morrell said he plans to include specific recommendations on retrofitting in his preliminary report to government expected next month.

He said two of the most important issues were the creation of a client side to drive demand  whether utilities companies, retailers, government or others – and the extent to which government was prepared to regulate to encourage consumer demand.

He was critical of the attitude of “some in the industry who want to wait for clients [to create markets based on sustainability]…you even hear them blame clients.

“I talked to a retail market leader recently and they told me that they believe in zero carbon as a value proposition even though their own customers do not yet value it. Why? Because they want to be ahead of the curve and get competitive advantage.”

He denied that the industry was behind on sustainability and said “there are real triumphs at every level.

“There is a growing appetite in the development community to build buildings with a carbon agenda, there are contractors who are reacting very well to the carbon reduction commitment regulations and changing their working practices as a result, there are product manufacturers who are ready for to respond as the market forms.

“There is no doubt that there is a reluctance [for clients] to pay significantly more – at the moment. But that is because carbon is so cheap and before regulation starts really costing it out. It’s exactly where you expect the market to be.”

He said that industry needed to fight for the kind of respect that the government has for other industries  such as automotive.

Mr Morrell said: “Why doesn’t construction enjoy the respect that government has for the car industry, and it’s true it doesn’t.

“Part of it is a misunderstanding of what construction is, but deeper than that the best answer I have been given is that we don’t look like an industry that has a plan for its own future.”