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By Lee Chambers, Chief Commercial Officer at the Active Building Centre

In 2018, the construction industry was at a turning point, following a series of high-profile scandals and the growing urgency in cutting carbon emissions….

 “The construction industry was stuck in a system that didn’t work well for anyone; the system had evolved to produce the cheapest building rather than the one that provided the greatest value over its lifetime.”

Those are the words of Dr Mike Pitts, Deputy Challenge Director from Innovate UK, describing the situation facing the construction industry just a few years ago.

Step forward – the Transforming Construction Challenge.

A transformational partnership

In response to this sluggish construction industry, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy produced the Construction Sector Deal.

This deal aimed to revolutionise the construction industry, prioritising the delivery of whole-life value to society, and not just securing the cheapest solution.

As part of this, the Transforming Construction Challenge was launched with a set of ambitious targets for the industry, to reduce wasteful steps and deliver the next generation of buildings.

The challenge was a partnership between government, the construction industry and academia and brought together major sector stakeholders from contractors to researchers and policy makers.

It was funded under the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund with the aim to  accelerate the modernisation of how we deliver buildings in the UK.

ABC was created as part of this challenge.

The targets of the challenge included:

  • Delivering projects 50% faster
  • Life costs reduced by 33%
  • Lifetime emissions cut by 50%
  • Productivity raised by 15%

Has construction actually changed?

On 24th February 2022, we took part in the Transforming Construction Challenge’s (TCC) Foundations for the Future event at the Manufacturing Technology Centre near Coventry.

The one day gathering was styled as a celebratory event to mark the conclusion of the four-year challenge.

As the programme draws to a close, it’s right we celebrate its successes, and reflect on the progress that has been made towards meeting the challenge of transforming construction.

But, more importantly, we look forward to the next steps towards a smarter future.  

Whilst we have made progress and are transforming construction let’s not fool ourselves the job is done – its far from it. 

ABC’s role

Along with our colleagues at the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, our Active Buildings have gone a long way to demonstrate the capabilities of the UK building stock and make net-zero buildings a reality.

Our real-world case studies are integral to this challenge, demonstrating that any building can be transformed into an active building, and become an active contributor to the grid.

For us at ABC we have been clear it’s always been about real world, real projects, real people, and that has given us a unique position in the transforming construction arena.

From working with councils to deliver low carbon social houses, to developing green business parks to working with house builders to design state of the art active and low carbon homes. Not just ideas on paper for future homes, but homes being built now that are carbon negative and energy positive.

Going forward we have lots of councils, developers and others knocking at our door to get that help and expertise – as what is clear is that there is a growing knowledge gap that we at ABC are trying to fill.

Impact Assessment

As a project draw to a close, its right to take stock on what’s been achieved, to reflect.  As part of that reflection,  Innovate UK has produced the  transforming construction challenge brochure detailing the progress and achievements to date of the challenge.

This includes all:

  • collaborative research and development
  • demonstrators
  • academic research.

As part of the assessment of the success of the challenge an independent evaluation was commissioned, undertaken by Frontier Economics, it details the evidence collected on the challenge performance against its original objectives.

At the event this independent report on the impact of the transforming construction challenge was published. It makes for good reading and shows what progress has been achieved despite the challenge being during a global pandemic.

Looking to the future

We may not have been prepared for many of the events of the pandemic but, thanks to the industry’s efforts, spurred on by the Transforming Construction Challenge, it is far better positioned to build back better than many other industries.

The event at the Manufacturing Technology Centre clearly demonstrated that these past four years have gone a long way to helping the sector achieve its collective goals.

The collaboration to date between Government bodies, researchers and forward-thinking companies has created a boom in innovation solutions, from smart energy storage to modular buildings, and even remote-controlled robotic tools.

But the key take aways from attendees and panellist at the event was that the momentum cannot go to waste.

Key challenges

As we look to the future and build on the foundations of the TCC, our next question needs to focus on what more the sector can do.

With a policy environment that allows for companies to be innovative and the funding available to source new solutions, the construction sector now finds itself with a strong foundation from which to build off as we strive towards the net-zero targets for new builds and retrofits.

We must continue to share knowledge and collaborate with the 90% of the construction industry that are SMEs to produce innovative solutions and make them available to all. We must continue to invest and continue to drive the changes from within.

The Transforming Construction Challenge may be drawing to a close, but we know there are yet more challenges to be met.

Fortunately, at the ABC, we’re up for the challenge, and we’re looking forward to working with even more firms who share our hunger.

As Lee Rowley MP, Minister for Industry said at the TCC event, “Change is difficult, but we are up for change (…) if we get it right and show people the journey of what it can take, we can take the whole sector along with us.”