The 12 December general election is now just a week or so away. As the UK readies itself for its third general election since 2015, each of the main UK political parties are now in full campaign mode and have released their manifestos.
As expected, Brexit dominates each manifesto, particularly with smaller parties seeking to make inroads in both leave- and remain-voting seats. But this focus has come at a cost of domestic issues and, from our vantage point, investment in the UK’s built environment.
Investment in the built environment is crucial to both social and economic development across the UK. Our chartered members are at the forefront in tackling these domestic issues, such as improving the quality of our built environment, enhancing connectivity and meeting sustainability targets. Many of these areas of focus were also published in our manifesto in November.
In our call to the new government, we asked for consistency in leadership for the built environment within parliament. We’ve seen three construction ministers this year alone and had ten housing ministers since the coalition government came to power in 2010. We are hopeful that the next government will listen to our call to appoint a Housing Minister and a Construction Minister with a background in or nuanced understanding of the sector. And leave them in post long enough to work with the CIOB and other bodies in the built environment to make meaningful progress on the issues that need to be addressed. In our manifesto, we asked a future government to commit to tackling the construction industry skills shortage as well as better supporting apprenticeships, at all levels, within the sector.
We’ve rounded up what the three main parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats) have pledged in their manifestos in regard to the key issues that affect construction. Other parties, such as the Scottish National Party (SNP), Brexit party and Green party, have also launched their manifesto’s. These parties have put housing on their agenda with many focusing on issues around affordable and sustainable housing. Some have made more detailed pledges than others when it comes to issues that affect the built environment, but we welcome their commitment to tackling some of these issues. If you wish to read more about the manifestos, we have provided links to them at the end.
Education and skills
All major parties have pledged to improve the UK’s skills system. The Conservatives indicate they will create a new £3bn skills fund to provide funding for education and training over the next parliament. This fund will provide match funding for individuals and SMEs for education and training, with a proportion reserved for further strategic investment in skills. Additionally, the manifesto makes reference to improving “the workings of the Apprenticeship Levy”, a policy that has come under a significant amount of criticism amongst construction employers, trade associations and professional bodies. Labour have confirmed they will set out a strategy for a flourishing construction sector with a skilled workforce and full rights at work. The Liberal Democrats will also develop a national skills strategy for key sectors – although it is not yet known if construction and the wider-built environment is considered a ‘key sector’.
We have talked to policy makers over many years about the profound impact that the construction industry has on the UK economy, as well as the effect it has on the lives of the public, creating and maintaining the built environment in which we work, rest and play. We would also like to see any investment in construction and infrastructure projects to be geared to the long-term aim of developing skilled young people, to improve retention in the industry.
Build quality and safety
In both the Conservative and Labour manifestos we saw commitments to improve build quality and safety. Conservatives reaffirmed their commitment to implement and legislate all the recommendations from the Hackitt Review. Labour announced intentions for a £1 billion Fire Safety Fund to fit sprinklers and other fire safety measures in all high-rise council and housing association tower blocks, as well as enforce replacement of unsafe cladding on high-risk buildings. We are pleased that both parties seem to understand the need to focus on quality and improve building safety measures following numerous failings across the sector.
Around 40% of carbon emissions come from the built environment. Climate change and global warming have been in the headlines this year and, rightly so, are garnering attention in a way they have not previously. All three main party manifestos touched on how they would address climate change with many focusing on creating more sustainable new buildings. The Liberal Democrats has sought to prioritise the top sustainability issues within the built environment, declaring their intentions for all new homes and non-domestic buildings to be built to a zero-carbon standard, by 2021, rising to a more ambitious ‘Passivhaus’ standard by 2025. Labour pledged to look at upgrading and retrofitting existing homes in order to make them more energy efficient.
We support both visions, although require further detail on implementation. However, we strongly advise any future government to create a repair and maintenance strategy and provide detail on their plans for upgrading existing building stock. Putting in place a formal plan will help ensure buildings are energy efficient, higher quality and, importantly, give certainty to those working in the construction industry.
We have long advocated the potential for ‘business clusters’ in the built environment. These clusters would help stimulate innovation, create greater opportunities for networking and sharing of ideas and work in a similar way to existing science parks, helping to group together a range of built environment-related businesses. We are pleased that the Liberal Democrats have pledged to create Local Industrial Strategies around universities with area specific specialisms. The opportunities for the built environment are significant, helping make regional firms more effective in their local market as well as nationally and overseas. Additionally, areas located around the Northern Powerhouse would be a powerful testbed for such operations.
The Conservatives have also pledged to garner greater community involvement to help decide local design standards for new development, whilst encouraging local councils to build more beautiful buildings. Developments that meet the need and expectations of communities are more likely to be welcomed, rather than resisted, by existing communities. It’s clear the appearance of a building and good quality design can enhance spaces. However, although we advocate more community involvement, we are clear that the quality of builds must not be sacrificed for aesthetic appeal. Construction projects work best when there is integration between the client, designers, contractors, surveyors and others involved in the building lifecycle.
A summary of other announcements and commitments concerning the built environment can be seen below:
• Amend planning rules so that the infrastructure – roads, schools, GP surgeries – comes before people move into new homes. Introduce a £10 billion Single Housing Infrastructure Fund will help deliver it faster.
• Ask every community to decide on its own design standards for new development, with local councils encouraged to build more beautiful architecture.
• Continue the commitment to implement and legislate all the recommendations of the Hackitt Review and the first phase of the independent inquiry. They will continue to work with industry, housing associations and individuals to ensure every home is safe and secure. And we will support high rise residential residents with the removal of unsafe cladding and continue with our rigorous process of materials testing.
• Help people who want to build their own homes find plots of land and access the Help to Buy scheme. We will also support communities living on council estates who want to take ownership of the land and buildings they live in.
• Support the creation of new kinds of homes that have low energy bills, and which support our environmental targets and will expect all new streets to be lined with trees.
• Encourage innovative design and technology to make housing more affordable, accessible, and suitable for disabled people and an ageing population.
• Protect and enhance the Green Belt. Improve poor quality land, increase biodiversity and make our beautiful countryside more accessible for local community use. In order to safeguard our green spaces, we will continue to prioritise brownfield development, particularly for the regeneration of our cities and towns.
• Create a new £3bn skills fund to provide funding for education and training.
• Introduce a £1 billion Fire Safety Fund to fit sprinklers and other fire safety measures in all high-rise council and housing association tower blocks, enforce the replacement of dangerous Grenfell-style cladding on all high-rise homes and buildings, while introducing mandatory building standards and guidance, inspected and enforced by fully trained Fire and Rescue Service fire safety officers.
• Create a new Department for Housing, make Homes England a more accountable national housing agency and put councils in the driving seat.
• Set out a strategy for a flourishing construction sector with a skilled workforce and full rights at work.
• Labour will set up a new English Sovereign Land Trust, with powers to buy land more cheaply for low-cost housing. We will use public land to build this housing, not sell it off to the highest bidder. Developers will face new ‘use it or lose it’ taxes on stalled housing developments. We will keep the Land Registry in public hands and make ownership of land more transparent. We will make brownfield sites the priority for development and protect the green belt.
• Tackle the climate crisis and cut energy bills by introducing a tough, new zero-carbon homes standard for all new homes and upgrading millions of existing homes to make them more energy efficient.
• Review the planning guidance for developments in flood risk areas.
Liberal Democrat manifesto
• Set an ambitious National Industrial Strategy to transform the economy and develop Local Industrial Strategies within it that incentivise clustering by businesses and universities with particular specialisations.
• An emergency ten-year programme to reduce energy consumption from all the UK’s buildings, cutting emissions and fuel bills and ending fuel poverty.
• Reform building standards to ensure that all new homes built from 2022 have full connectivity to ultra-fast broadband and are designed to enable the use of smart technologies.
• Invest to clear the backlog of repairs to school and college buildings so that they’re safer
• Require all new homes and non-domestic buildings to be built to a zero-carbon standard (whereas much energy is generated on-site, through renewable sources, as is used), by 2021, rising to a more ambitious (‘Passivhaus’) standard by 2025.
• Combat climate change, introducing requirements for the greater use of sustainably harvested wood in construction.
• Establish a £5 billion fund for flood prevention and climate adaptation over the course of the parliament to improve food defences and introduce high standards for flood resilience for buildings and infrastructure in food risk areas.
• Also use £10 billion of our capital fund to make necessary investments in equipment, hospitals, community, ambulance and mental health services buildings, to bring them into the 21st century.
• Introduce new Skills Wallets for every adult in England, giving them £10,000 to spend on education and training throughout their lives:
• Develop a national skills strategy for key sectors, including zero-carbon technologies, to help match skills and people.
• Expand the apprenticeship levy into a wider ‘Skills and Training Levy’ to help prepare the UK’s workforce for the economic challenges ahead
Regardless of the result from the general election, we look forward to working with the future government on issues that face the construction industry and the wider built environment.
Read the manifestos in full: