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By Hywel Lloyd, Government Engagement Manager

Whether it’s a ‘return to normal’, the emergence of a ‘new normal’, a ‘green recovery’ or ‘Build Back Better’ now is the time to rebuild Active.

Over the past few weeks the calls for an economic route map to take us forward beyond the pandemic have grown considerably.  Some have called for a ‘return to normal’, others for the emergence of a ‘new normal’, some for a ‘green recovery’ or ‘Build Back Better’.

Build back better – precision beats shovelling

Only last week the FT reports the Government put out an urgent call for ‘shovel ready’ projects, with proposals requested back by the end of this week. While ‘shovel-ready’ projects might well be part of the answer to the economic recession we face, there’s clearly a concern that this could result in funding going to projects that are now outdated.

Not all of those things that once gave us success or benefits will do so again.

The impact of the pandemic is huge, with meaningful consequences to follow; if 1 in 20 commuters stuck with a new route after a tube strike what level of change will stick as people work differently, move and commute differently, work from home more often … that must mean some yet to happen projects should never happen, as they are no longer fit for the future given how different that future might be. And, while the pandemic rages, climate change has become more apparent to more people, just contrasting the down-pouring of February with the visions of so much spring sunshine.

Our newly imagined ways of working, being and doing will have meaningful consequences for what a good project now looks like.

That should extend to a better description of what’s required – a move to projects that are climate and lifestyle proofed – summed up as ‘precision-primed’, projects that are engineered, that are well designed, that deploy the best technology effectively, that are low energy and add value – including but not restricted to Modern Methods of Construction and buildings that are Active.

The future, of work, rest, and play

For significant numbers home working will remain a meaningful part of their future working week. Given the right digital connectivity many meetings will remain video enabled, and more people will spend more time locally.

Any recovery response must have a degree of urgency to it, the need for a climate response can only add to the urgency, while adding the challenge of being urgent in the right measures and interventions; there’s no benefit in rushing only to make the bigger challenge of climate chaos worse.

A focus for the recovery – our new needs

Many people will need more robust and capable digital connectivity. Our mobility and physical connectivity will have a greater ‘active’ element, with growing demand for safe cycling routes, socially distanced pavements as well as expectations of quieter streets and cleaner air. Homes and buildings will benefit from the ability to make the most of the weather, as well as protecting against the new extremes.

Meeting our new needs

For many the answers lie the space in, on and around our homes and buildings. These can be addressed with a future proofed approach to energy and water, which would include:

• improved energy and water control for flexible management of use
• additional equipment to capture, store and most importantly integrate energy uses,  especially as EVs tend to become the norm
• improved guttering, roofing, and water management
• digital connectivity that given everyone +1Gb capacity

Our paths, streets and roads will be reconfigured, to deploy the fibre cable some still need, to deliver Sustainable Drainage Systems for every community that needs them, to grow local green and community spaces for meeting and sharing; and not least to reflect the new balance between different modes of mobility – active travel first and foremost, space for walking, cycling, with the car a distant third in road space priorities.

Many of our new needs just require a vast array of improvements to what we already have – there is much greater, UK wide, potential in focusing on these actions and the benefits they will bring, than focusing on just new build – harder yes, but more rewarding too. And that’s before we get into how many jobs this approach could create.

Where we do need a new building, home or infrastructure they will be built with the precision of modern methods of construction, making the most of the productivity and efficiency gains available from digitally enabled factory construction.

An active approach to our new needs

An Active approach to buildings, new and old, would offer a response that is both prompt and future proofed; future proofed for both climate and changing lifestyles. Active Building design, build and upgrade integrates the digital and energy capabilities that we will need, while reducing peak energy demand and enabling clean mobility (by EV or ebike). An Active approach also recognises how buildings sit in the landscape, be that to maximise solar gain, or to be part of a local micro grid that better balances local energy use. Active Buildings are the future of buildings.