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BESA conference considers post-Grenfell and Brexit challenges

Effective innovation, replacing EU funding for green infrastructure projects post-Brexit and learning the right lessons from the Grenfell Tower fire were among the day’s major talking points

Calls for a stricter approach to compliance in the use and maintenance of building services and ensuring a sufficient intake of young people with the required levels of technical, digital or sustainability policy skills were among key themes of the BESA National Conference in London today.

Association president Tim Hopkinson opened the event playing up the importance of national apprenticeship focuses to ensure a sufficient influx of skilled workers that can help drive innovation and improved standards in areas such as heating and cooling.

The broader conference touched on the potential uncertainty on having a sufficiently skilled workforce in a post-brexit environment, as well as the role that new technologies may or may not play in attracting students and apprentices to the building services sector in future.

Also speaking at the event was Shirley Rodriguez, who was last year appointed as London’s deputy mayor for environment and energy. She outlined how the capital’s ambitions to become a carbon neutral city by 2050 would be met partly through new building standards concerning heating and emissions, which are expected to lead the way for similar strategies across the UK.

Echoing broader themes of the day, helpfully in line with BESA’s own views on overhauling the role of building design and functions such as ventilation, Ms Rodriguez played up a need for a change in the way the country thinks about buildings and how they are built and maintained.

This not only includes new approaches to indoor air quality, but also curbing emissions resulting from current and future buildings. London mayor Sadiq Kahn aims to have zero carbon buildings realised by 2050 as part of a strategy that remains under consultation until later next month.

Post-Brexit funding

When asked about the end to current EU funding for sustainable projects and where funding may come from after Brexit, Ms Rodriguez added that she was presently asking the same questions from government in order to support initiatives to encourage cleaner building systems.

“We have really benefited in London, I think it is in the area of £600m generally. On the environment we have had a lot of funding on energy efficiency, on heating and a whole host of infrastructure such as parks, green spaces and so on,” she said.

“So what we have started now is we are obviously lobbying government, who have said that they will, on exiting Europe, use the funding that would have gone to the EU to create a fund. So our lobbying is, ‘well we want the same amount of money and more’.”

Ms Rodriguez said work was now concentrated on holding talks to mobilise finance to introduce infrastructure more efficient systems and means of controlling heating and cooling amidst doubts on the exact amounts of funding available for future commitments.

Standards and compliance

With the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in June bringing building and safety standards to national attention, BESA also considered the need to ensure the industry was able to deliver on its promises concerning efficiency and safety. This was seen as being particularly important regarding internal standards, such as how a building’s systems operate and keep residents safe as part of a wider system of regulations and safety requirements.

A “zero tolerance” approach to meeting building regulations was put forward by David Frise, BESA’s head of sustainability, in order to ensure that standards and requirements that were often already in place were being met.

He argued a failure to ensure this would otherwise see a more forceful approach potentially coming from elsewhere.

“The change we want is not more accreditation, more tick boxes, but actually about what you deliver, not what you promised,” he said.

Other sessions looked at the potential role technology could play via new apps and tools to help with issues such as recording and logging potentially decades worth of maintenance and construction work on buildings and heating systems that was not presently always available.

In order to realise some of these potential benefits however, delegates argued that there was need to overcome challenges around creating the required standards on using and protecting personal data that may be required from smart appliances and systems. They also debated where the most pressing needs were for sensor-based systems.

More in-depth coverage of the event and some of the key themes and trends to emerge will be appearing on the site and the upcoming issue of H&V News magazine.


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