Pete Hammond, senior estimator, looks at balancing short-term growth with a long-term infrastructure strategy.
We’ve written before on the absolute need to build a more sustainable future.
Most recently, we’ve drawn attention on the need to preserve old buildings rather than demolishing them.
Rather than seeing old buildings as worthless, instead recognising their asset value as structures that can be refurbished or repurposed.
Our refurbishment expertise extends to building in fire safety in old residential blocks in London and Bristol. It also extends to refurbishing the Nigeria stock exchange and a historic souk in war-ravaged Beirut.
But refurbishment and repurposing aren’t just about preserving the past. If we are serious about achieving zero carbon emissions – and the government has set a target of 2050 to do so – we also have to recognise the high levels of carbon emitted during construction.
That’s a campaign that’s being led by Architect’s Journal magazine, with the support of several Stirling Prize winners. Simply, repurposing old buildings emits less carbon.
But it’s an issue that extends into our towns and cities. COVID-19 has accelerated changes to the ways we shop or entertain ourselves.
Even when the pandemic is over, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the same levels of footfall through our high streets.
A report from consultancy firm McKinsey & Company sets out the main consumer trends that COVID-19 has brought about.
These include a shift to value and essentials, reflecting falling incomes for many people, and a growth in digital shopping. Also, many consumers say that they’ll continue to shop online.
Those shifts in behaviours are having, and will have, a profound impact on our towns and cities. We’ve also written recently about the urgent need to develop local, regional and national plans to address our ailing high streets.
Together, working with planners and the building sector, we have to repurpose the past to make it viable for the future.
Over the summer, there was an interesting report from the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland (ICS).
It wants to shift the public policy focus to cutting emissions and helping the economy become more inclusive.
Its report says that an independent body should be created by the Scottish government to draw up a 30-year infrastructure plan. In other words, independent of government and short-term political expediency.
The Infrastructure Commission for Scotland was created to reach beyond the five-year plans of election cycles. It looks at what will be required over several decades if the country is to hit net zero carbon emissions.
For example, this means thinking about energy efficient buildings as well as more and smarter public transport.
Most importantly, we should stop looking at infrastructure projects simply as a way to boost growth.
The focus should be on cutting emissions and helping the economy become more inclusive. In particular, for those segments of society who tend to get left behind.
It is part of an overall recommendation that the ‘place principle’ should apply. That is, not simply to construct a building, but for that building to be part of a wider context. The objective should be to create spaces and places where communities can thrive.
At Wrightstyle, we agree that infrastructure has a vital role to play in the delivery of an inclusive, net zero carbon economy. We also recognise that COVID-19 has amplified the need for urgent action.
However, we also believe that the government is simply looking to the construction sector to boost short-term growth.
Instead, what’s needed – now more than ever – is a long-term strategy that recognises the importance of major infrastructure projects to community cohesion and development.
Main picture: Royal Academy, London