by Lee Jones
Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II gave the opening speech at Parliament on 11th May 2021. This opening of Parliament sets out the Government’s plans for the future, and offers great insight into changes that will be afoot over the coming year and later, impacting both our daily lives and aspects specific to our sector.
Back in December 2019, the Queen delivered an opening speech in which she noted that the Government would be taking all 53 of Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations from ‘Building a safer future’ forward. Today, further developments to this plan (plus many other aspects) were expected, and the speech did not disappoint. Below is a summary of the key aspects that are applicable to our sector, as announced by the Queen.
It was noted that the Government has committed to delivering improved infrastructure and connectivity for the country – predominantly through rail and bus travel. This will see required spending in a sector which is arguably dated. For construction product manufacturers, increased project activity should hopefully see an increase in sales as the country recovers from the economic effects of the pandemic. Furthermore, eight new ‘freeports’ to improve trade with other nations were also announced. In the past week, the Prime Minister has also been in the press, noting discussions with India on future trade agreements. These things all tie in, and our usual routes of distribution and procurement with historical partners may see significant changes. There was also the announcement of the ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’, where focus will be given to the education sector to ensure that the skills our nation needs to remain global leaders are safeguarded in the future. Construction skills and the uprising of digital technology will no doubt play their part in this. The key theme is to drive economic growth, and Her Majesty noted that we will be on a clear and sustainable path once the economic recovery (post-pandemic) has happened.
Not specifically linked, but it was announced that plans are afoot to modernize the planning system in the UK. Whilst this is widely known, the reasoning for this is to speed up the process, and to allow us to reach the building targets required to provide enough homes for an ever-expanding population. Further linked to the planning system, however: the Government yesterday published the Building safety: planning gateway one. This is the first step in implementing the ‘Golden Thread’ and Dame Judith Hackitt’s recommendations. The key aspect of gateway one is to include a fire statement for all ‘applicable buildings’, or buildings which are on the curtilage of other applicable buildings. Notably, the HSE will also be involved in all sign-offs of this kind at the planning stages. Further gateways at the technical design and construction stages of projects are planned to ensure correctness of design, specification and build, plus a final gate to ensure that what has been built is as specified and fit for purpose, prior to client handover. The Queen also announced the implementation of the Building safety regulator, who will play a key role in these forthcoming changes, and in building approvals in the future.
The speech noted that ‘green industries’ will be a focus for the Government, to help create jobs and protect our natural surroundings. This backs up the UK’s commitment to reaching net zero by 2050. The UK will hold the COP26 summit (26th Conference of the Parties) in Glasgow this autumn, where world leaders will meet to further develop plans to reduce not only the amount of carbon that we generate as a species but the resulting temperatures of the Earth. Her Royal Highness also went on to note that legislation will set binding environmental practice as a mandatory and legal requirement. For construction product manufacturers, this is yet another note that you must take ownership of your sustainable credentials – relating not only to your products but also to the way that you run your businesses. The recent NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit had a key theme of sustainability, notable in talks from the numerous industry leaders to the UK Construction Minister, right through to practising architects. It was clear that manufacturers’ sustainability information is now paramount, and will continue to be, in making decisions regarding product specifications. Not only is this now a must-have for your clients, these details will soon be written into law. The time to act is now, and we can all see positive benefits, sustainably but also financially, if this is approached in the right manner.
Whilst the opening of Parliament was short, the Queen’s Speech covered a broad array of topics, with the majority clearly having specific impact on the construction and manufacturing sectors. Notably, the themes discussed very closely matched those raised by the construction leaders presenting at the recent NBS Construction Leaders’ Summit. Manufacturers must take note of these forthcoming changes as they will impact the whole sector in various ways.
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