Week commencing 18 May 2020

In today's bulletin

• Construction tech to be studied across England
• Extended supervision for HS2

• Renewables to resist COVID-19 impact
• Parliament in need of reform?

Property, Planning and Regeneration

Construction tech to be studied across England

Around 1,500 homes at sites across the country will be studied for several years as part of a new research project into modern methods of construction (MMC). Announced on 20 May by the Government’s housing agency, Homes England, the study will collect a range of data from the developments including cost and pace of builds, safety issues and construction wastage.
The results will be used by Homes England to make decisions about the effectiveness of the forms of MMC being used and how they might be improved.

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Fire Safety Bill at committee stage

A parliamentary select committee has called for written evidence from anyone with special expertise, experience or interest in the Fire Safety Bill. The Public Bill Committee announced its call for evidence on 17 May and urged submissions to be made as soon as possible, with the committee due to report on its findings no later than 25 June.
The Bill is part of the Government’s response to the Grenfell tragedy and will make changes to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It is hoped that the changes will clear up confusion over responsibility for fire safety in buildings that contain more than one home.

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Extend restrictions on combustible materials

Hotels, hostels and boarding houses must be added to high-rise buildings in the 2018 ban on using unsafe substances, such as aluminium composite materials. This is according to a report by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) released on 21 May and submitted in response to the Government’s consultation on restricting combustible materials, which closed on 25 May.
RIBA also recommends that the 2018 restrictions be extended to include relevant buildings over 11 metres above ground level, and that further research is undertaken into the use of structural timber within external walls.

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Pandemic undermines workplace real estate pipeline

The high volume of new construction starts in the first quarter of 2020 meant that office development enjoyed a positive beginning to the year, but this newfound business confidence quickly disappeared as a result of COVID-19.
Deloitte’s London Office Crane Survey, published on 18 May, found that 46 per cent of developers plan to reduce their pipelines in the next six months and that upcoming completions will be delayed by at least three months as confidence in office leasing demand plunges.

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Futureproof buildings with digital

Digital technology is central to futureproofing buildings and should be implemented across all stages of the building lifecycle, according to Green Alliance’s latest policy insight paper. Published on 20 May, Smart building calls for increased investment in digital capability to ensure a low-carbon, resource-efficient future.
The independent environmental think tank and charity argues digital solutions mean the construction industry can relieve pressure on resources by making the most of existing buildings and materials. The report calls for the public sector to lead by example with their own buildings and for additional funding for retrofit programmes.

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House price index suspended

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) monthly house price index will be suspended indefinitely because of low transaction numbers caused by COVID-19 restrictions. The ONS made the announcement on 20 May alongside its data for March, which showed a fall of 0.2 per cent in the average price of a UK home compared with February.
The average value of a new home in March was £232,000 – an increase of 2.1 per cent over the figure in March 2019. The April house price index is due to be released on 17 June and will be the last set of data published until transaction numbers return to a level that allows meaningful analysis.

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Transport

Extended supervision for HS2

The independent Construction Commissioner who currently oversees HS2 has had his role extended to include Phase 2a of the project.
The Government announced on 19 May that Sir Mark Worthington will be responsible for holding the Government accountable for the route between the West Midlands and Crewe, in addition to the Phase One route between London and Birmingham. The broadened duties also include the role of mediator between construction contractors and local communities.

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HS2: ‘badly off-course’

MPs from the Public Accounts Committee have criticised the handling of HS2, condemning the project for its lengthening delays and spiralling costs. In the High Speed 2: Spring Update, released 17 May, MPs have called for greater clarity and accountability, in addition to a plea for the project to learn from previous experiences, such as Crossrail.
Along with a detailed response to its report, the committee has also asked for further updates in three months about the form of the Department for Transport’s regular reporting on HS2, and within six months about the delivery of its extensive plans for Euston Station.

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Energy and Environment

Renewables to resist COVID-19 impact

Renewable energy is expected to see a fast recovery despite the global downturn caused by COVID-19. A report by EY predicts that renewables will remain a safe investment, spurred on by a continued interest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues.
Published on 19 May, the professional services firm’s Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index ranks the UK sixth out of forty listed countries for its investment potential, specifically crediting the recent commitments to both offshore wind and solar power as catalysts for the continued growth in the renewable energy sector.

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Leaky homes cost more in energy than others in lockdown

Living in a poorly insulated home increases annual energy bills more than additional energy use during lockdown in a well-insulated home. This is one of the key findings of the Lockdown in Leaky Homes report, published on 22 May by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.
The non-profit organisation highlights the UK as falling short of fuel poverty targets and calls for the Government to address energy-inefficient homes within its coronavirus recovery package.

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Wind power soars during stormy February

The windiest, wettest February on record was the first month to see more energy generated by wind farms than fossil fuel plants, according to Drax’s Electricity Insights for Q1 2020.
Published on 21 May, the figures reveal that 40 per cent of energy consumed during the quarter was generated from renewable sources, while energy generation from fossil fuels fell by a record 25 per cent on the same period last year. Britain’s wind farms operated at an all-time proportion of their capacity in February too – 50 per cent for onshore and 60 per cent for offshore.

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Other News

Parliament in need of reform?

A leading government think tank believes the existing parliamentary system is in need of reform due to its binary mechanisms, which leave it unable to come to a consensus on major issues, including the Brexit deal.
Despite its problems, the Institute for Government has found that parliament did manage to deliver on its key duties in the 2017-2019 parliament. Its report, Parliamentary Monitor 2020, published on 20 May, calls for the current parliament to learn from the experiences of its predecessor, namely avoiding drama to protect its reputation and functions, and facilitating debate rather than fostering divides.

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