REPORT FROM VICE-PRESIDENT, GAVIN DUNN
Once again it is my turn to share with you my insights into the activities of the Association from the Vice-Presidential perspective. Previously, I have written about my views on the new and emerging global drivers challenging our industry, how these are likely to impact our professional lives, and how, I believe, Building Engineers are well placed to both benefit from and provide solutions to many of these new challenges.
Of course, because of my area of specialism I find myself focusing on the areas of energy and sustainability standards, but the nature of large global challenges means we all have to change and adapt whatever technical specialism you may practice. Within our industry the various standards we use are key to so much of what we do; they define the level of expected quality or performance, but are also key to how we raise quality and respond effectively to new challenges.
Unsurprising then, that with such changing expectations on the built environment that the standards landscape we work with is changing too. While facing the introduction and complexity of new or updated standards is never easy, and often the last extra thing we want to deal with during a busy project schedule, it is essential for our industry to collectively move forward. In recent years I have noticed a number of distinct changes to the standards landscape which I believe are significant:
● Firstly, all too often we appear to confuse the different functions of the building regulations, technical and voluntary standards, and approved guidance. By definition, the building regulations as we use them in the UK are functional requirements that set up the minimum expectations of a building element or service and, with a few notable exceptions, almost never prescribe the detail as how we are to go about achieving the requirements. That is the role of the approved guidance and specified standards: standards which are by definition voluntary, often above regulation and developed by various proprietary bodies and national standards bodies including BSI or CEN. We would all do well to be clear about the distinction between the regulations, standards and guidance before applying them on projects, especially when so many may be in use at the same time.
● Secondly, we increasingly talk about building performance and the specification of high performance buildings but this is something that the regulations and traditional standards struggle to deal with effectively. Indeed, in most cases they were not designed to deal with building performance as a concept directly, but rather typically set technical attributes that should result in a given performance outcome of the building, as opposed to defining performance itself. Furthermore, the building regulations by definition only set minimum requirements so making them a difficult mechanism to specify high performance unless you are to make all buildings high performance. When dealing with building performance issues I suggest simply relying on compliance to regulation is unlikely to be enough and there is a real need for a skilled building engineer to bring the various elements together to achieve the desired performance outcome.
● Thirdly, some people appear to believe that Brexit will result in a significant reduction in the amount of regulation and standards applicable to our sector or that the return of the old British Standards is just around the corner. I am afraid that these people are likely to be disappointed and there are a number of reasons why; the fact is at the present time and until sometime in 2019 we remain in the EU and all current legislative directives remain in place. In my world of energy and sustainability that means further revisions to Part L to ensure cost optimality and the implementation of nearly zero energy buildings will likely go ahead as these are scheduled to occur while the UK remains in the EU. Even after 2019 it is likely that all current legislation derived from the EU will, at least initially anyway, be transposed into UK legislation to ensure minimal disruption to the industry during the transition. Similarly, in regards to British Standards, I believe that they will remain closely aligned to CEN standards because it is likely to be in our best interest. Materials suppliers often work across borders and will not like extra cost and disruption of having to work to multiple standards. Also we do not yet know what our long-term trading relationship with the EU will be and any future trade deal may indeed involve the use of common standards.
More widely, however, the other major change I am seeing is a distinct change in the drivers for the specification of building and performance standards. In the past we often relied on government policy or regulation to drive standards and, clearly, Governments at all levels remain an important driver, especially for minimum standards. However, increasingly we are seeing developers and investors looking to go beyond minimum standards because it makes economic sense to do so and they are increasingly looking at what is best value for a project as opposed to the lowest capital cost model that has dominated activity in our industry for so long.
In my world of BREEAM this means developers spending a bit more time designing and a little bit more capital upfront but reaping significant extra returns later through increased asset values, reduced running costs, increased rents and occupancy rates. We are also seeing the new economics of sustainability mean the increasing convergence between previously separate disciplines and the emergence of new ones like wellbeing. If the science is correct and the technology works then the Wellbeing agenda could be the next paradigm shift in the economics of buildings, because even a small percentage improvement in the health or productivity of occupants would mean substantial paybacks for a building that can deliver. If the new economics of sustainability can provide payback in a few years, Wellbeing has the potential to payback in months.As a result I remain optimistic that, despite all the uncertainly, the new economics of sustainability mean that building standards and the skills of building engineers remain in demand because between them, better buildings and greater value can be delivered.I look forward to reporting again in two months.
BSc MSc PhD FCABE C.Build E