A man walks across the foundation for a new building carrying a large pole.

Comment: The built environment must improve its image if the new Government is to ‘get Britain building’

In her first major speech as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, has reinstated house building targets and reiterated Labour’s pledge to ‘get Britain building’.

The built environment has welcomed Labour’s focus on the sector and its central role in the new Government’s economic growth strategy. But industry leaders have also been quick to urge Labour to help address a longstanding challenge for the sector – skills gaps.

Both the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) point to the need to address skills shortages in the construction as a matter of priority.

In a press statement, Eddie Tuttle, Director for Policy, External Affairs and Research at CIOB, said: “We and the new Government must be realistic about the challenges the construction industry is facing, notably the shrinking skills base and the ageing construction workforce, with significant numbers of workers retiring and a lack of new entrants joining.”

Justin Young, CEO of RICS, has also underlined the size of the challenge, and the need to better understand the specific skills requirement for retrofit and net zero: “At RICS, we are calling for Government departments to work together to create a Built Environment Taskforce. The body should be responsible for mapping future labour needs to meet house building, retrofit and net zero needs.” 

Construction: An enduring image problem

Addressing the sector’s skills problem means addressing its long-standing image problem. For years, the built environment has struggled to attract the talent it needs, despite the opportunities the sector offers.

In fact, the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) has spent over 20 years warning about skills shortages. Its most recent Construction Skills Network report identifies that we need 251,500 additional workers, 50,300 per year, between now and 2028 to meet the expected levels of work in the industry. 

However, a 2023 poll by YouGov of 2000 members of the public for Deconstruction, a campaign group set up to promote the industry, found that 69% of adults would not contemplate working in the construction sector. More worryingly, 77% of 18–24-year-old full time students think the same.  52% perceive the sector to be dirty, 70% strenuous and 25% unsafe. 

The built environment: Key to unlocking net zero

Those involved with the built environment understand its exciting opportunities that lie across a diverse range of careers covering everything from planning and property management to engineering, surveying, and the trades. We also know the sector is at the heart of the climate and biodiversity crises – yet also offers scalable and innovative solutions to these challenges.

Retrofit is set to play a huge role in decarbonising the built environment given 80% of buildings that will be standing in 2050 have already been built. Upgrading the buildings we already have will be crucial to avoiding high embodied carbon emissions for decades to come.

It has been heartening to see the built environment get the political attention it deserves over the last few weeks. Among the new Government’s many tasks, it will need to keep visible the sector’s role in creating high quality homes, great places and sustainable communities.

This means the Government and industry shining a light on the fact there is more to construction than hard hats and steel capped boots – though these site-based jobs, of course, have their place.

Digital innovation, new technology, and high-quality engineering and building design can all improve the environment we live in, as well as offering decent, well-paid and rewarding livelihoods at all levels. A more sustainable built environment is the key to a better future.

This is the story we need to tell a new generation.

At-a-glance: The Labour party’s key pledges for the built environment

Industry bodies including the CIOB, RICS and RIBA have been united in welcoming Labour’s ambitions to deliver more development. Shares in in UK housebuilders jumped on 5 July, on hopes that the new Labour government would reinvigorate the sector.

Labour’s manifesto includes promises to:

  • Build 1.5 million new homes over the next parliament through a new planning framework which would re-instate mandatory housing targets and strengthen presumptions in favour of sustainable development.
  • Release lower quality green belt land, which is calling ‘grey belt’ and is expected to tell local authorities to identify this land for development in the next few weeks.
  • Prioritise social rented housing, reduce Right to Buy discounts and make changes to the Affordable Homes Programme to boost affordable housing. 
  • Develop a 10-year infrastructure strategy, including improving rail connectivity in the north of England. Labour has said this will be aligned to a new industrial strategy, which will guide investment plans and give the private sector certainty about the project pipeline.
  • Merge the National Infrastructure Commission and Infrastructure and Projects Authority to create a new body. This ‘National Infrastructure and Service Transformation Authority’ will bring together existing bodies, to set strategic infrastructure priorities and oversee the design, scope, and delivery of projects.
  • Update national planning policy to make it easier to build laboratories, digital infrastructure and giga factories.
  • Invest an extra £6.6bn as part of its Warm Homes Plan to upgrade five million homes.
  • Secure a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications to help open up markets for UK service exporters.
Tori Madine
Tori Madine
Tori is Account Director for our Built Environment client portfolio. She has spent many years working as a journalist and PR in the buildings arena. Since joining Content Coms, Tori has developed a particular interest and specialism in content and campaigns that drive sustainable specification, support ESG & accelerate decarbonisation.