Reflecting on achievements from the Transforming Construction programme

Innovate UK’s Deputy Challenge Director of Transforming Construction, Mike Pitts reflects on the findings and achievements from the Transforming Construction programme now that it has come to an end.

Posted on: 03/05/2023

A programme that dominated the last 7 years of my professional life has finally come to an end. The Transforming Construction challenge has wrapped up the last investments as the work moves into a phase of roll-out between industry and government.

Transforming Construction was established to tackle to issue of lagging productivity in the construction sector which was exacerbated by an ageing workforce. Faced with not being able to deliver the new buildings and infrastructure the nation needed, the programme set out to do three things.

The first was to move from procuring projects in a way that delivers the cheapest building to one that looks at maximising the value of what the building is for across its life. With the UK Government committed to the programme under the Construction Sector Deal, the programme benefitted from leadership from the biggest buyer of buildings.

The second area of focus was to eliminate steps in construction that added cost but not value. This meant rethinking the process of construction and bringing in best practice thinking from the UK’s leading manufacturing and digital sectors. The result was to take a platform approach – thinking of a building in terms of its component parts and standardising the dimensions and process of assembly as much as practicable.

The third objective was to ensure new buildings were net zero in operation (as well as having at least 50% less embodied carbon). A key concept was that of a ‘active building’. This is one where a building can generate, store and manage energy so that is becomes an active part of the energy system rather than a load.

So did we achieve these aims? Categorically yes!

When we started, I was clear that if by the time we completed we would be building schools and hospitals differently, then we would have succeeded. That is exactly what has happened. Thanks to the work of the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH) bringing all the expertise needed together and co-developing with industry the rules of this new approach, government has changed the way in procures buildings. The CIH produced the Value Toolkit to take more than capital cost into account and has supported its adoption by government.

The CIH also led on providing the frameworks for a platform approach to flourish. The Platform Toolkit enables the entire supply chain to see how it fits into a future construction market. The concept has been demonstrated using the CIH Sandpits that brought together different component systems from different suppliers to produce example parts of a school and hospital. This and other industry-led projects the programme funded have provided the evidence and experience that has turned sceptics into evangelists for this new process. Projects have shown we can close the productivity gap with the rest of the economy, reduce lifetime costs and speed up construction projects.

The programme also funded the Active Building Centre (ABC) to accelerate the adoption of the active building concept. Its expertise in combining the right technologies at a building level to achieve net zero at the lowest cost has influenced a number of live construction projects and helped technology providers collaborate more effectively. We now have examples of homes that are being built to net zero operation for the same cost as not.

As the challenge moves into this new phase, the CIH assets and knowledge have become incorporated into the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and the ABC is now integrated into the Energy Systems Catapult. However, the job is not done. The challenge programme showed that having a space to prototype new concepts speeds up their adoption as people get to experience what the process and end result feel like. There is certainly a case to continue to provide such facilities and this will be made in an effort to secure further investment.

The good news is the outputs of the programme are being applied on billons of pounds worth of construction projects now. Our schools and hospital building programmes will make use of these new methods. Homes are being built that are net zero and active. The challenge is a real success story for government and industry collaboration. Indeed, construction is the only UK economic sector to increase productivity through the pandemic period thanks to its adoption of these new methods. The potential impact for UK public sector buildings from using a platform approach driven by value has been estimated in a newly published report from the CIH and Mott MacDonald. This suggests potential saving of £1.8bn a year on a £5.8bn annual government pipeline are achievable, slashing the cost of new hospitals and schools by a third.

I invite you to see some of the results for yourself. We produced a directory of all our investments and a catalogue of the story behind each of them. And the video below shows highlights from across our investments and is all actual footage – no stock imagery.

How can you be part of bringing this future economy forward faster?

By Mike Pitts, Deputy Challenge Director of Transforming Construction, Innovate UK


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