Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) Annual Conference in Manchester provided an opportunity for industry professionals to debate openly about the state of the sector and consider the type of cultural reform the construction industry needs. On the work needed in the wake of Grenfell, the conference called for industry to “do the right thing.”
With a diverse membership covering design, construction, evaluation and maintenance professionals, more than 200 people from across the industry gathered for the two-day conference at the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel. Themed around achieving professional excellence, the hotly-debated event had a number of common threads – the issue of an industry-wide cultural change, ethics, roles and responsibilities and competency frameworks – all topics that CABE has been championing for some time.
In his keynote speech, Neil O’Connor CBE, Director of Building Safety at Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) told the conference that the Building Safety Programme that MHCLG is implementing “will drive cultural change, but this has to come from industry too.”
Talking about the work needed following the tragic Grenfell tower fire, he claimed that “regulators need greater co-ordination, capacity and capability to deal with these matters and ensure building safety and fix these issues. This has to be addressed and is being addressed.” He added: “Residents need to be safe and feel safe – we owe it to the Grenfell community, we owe it to all residents.” His colleague Brian Martin, Senior Principal Construction Professional from the MHCLG outlined the changes to Building Regulations Part L and F and the proposed Future Homes Standard.
Continuing the theme of regulation, architect Robin Nicholson said that the industry needed better regulation, not necessarily more. He also talked about the various ethical dilemmas that all professionals face and how climate change was raising many more. He urged professionals “to do the right thing.”
Reflecting on professional practice and how the general public had lost confidence in the industry, Peter Caplehorn, CEO at Construction Products Association,said: “The complicated regulatory system needs to change” and the sector needed “to consign the silo attitude to another decade.”
A talk by barrister Adrian Hughes QC focused on arbitration and litigation for the built environment and how mediation could be used to the mutual benefit of all parties in cases of dispute, to avoid arbitration and the spiralling cost of court proceedings.
On pathways to competency, Ashley Wheaton, Principal at the University College of Estate Management (UCEM) spoke about the role UCEM is playing in developing professionals for the built environment and how the degree apprenticeship programme was a great way of making sure an individual was ready for the right role.
One of the highlights of Day Two was the keynote speech on mental health from the Reverend Kevin Fear, Health and Safety Lead at CITB. He highlighted the shocking statistic of the risk of suicide among low-skilled male construction labourers being three times the national average. He cited long hours, tight deadlines, working away from home as major contributors to poor mental health. “It is our responsibility to do something about it,” he said.
Learned Societies Liaison Officer and barrister, Keith Lawrey, took to the stage to discuss the development of ethical practice in the construction profession and the final speaker of the day, Rachel Smalley, Principal Advisor for Access and Inclusion at the Greater London Authority, talked about access and inclusive design, and how built environment professionals needed to understand the difference between access and inclusion.
The conference also marked the unveiling of a new corporate brand identity for CABE. Dr Gavin Dunn, Chief Executive said: “This isn’t just a case of a new logo and a refresh of marketing collateral, this is a statement of intent, a statement from CABE symbolising its role as a unifying voice for the construction sector.”
With too many professions working in silos, CABE’s position as a professional body with members across design, construction, assessment and operation, is unique. This means it’s ideally placed to share knowledge, raise standards and develop professionals across the industry. And never has there been a more important time to do this. The breakdown of these silos and the sharing of information, responsibilities and genuine collaboration is what will help us rebuild trust in the public eye.
In summing up, CABE President Ant Burd said: “Collectively, as in industry, we need to stop making the same mistakes that we’ve made in the past and understand how to apply our knowledge in an ever-changing world. Sustainability and climate change should be front and centre of what we do, and how we need to treat people equally and be inclusive in all that we do.”