Jocelyne Fleming: Key developments at Holyrood will mean changes – and opportunities – for construction

Jocelyne Fleming: Key developments at Holyrood will mean changes – and opportunities – for construction

Jocelyne Fleming

It has been a hectic few weeks at Holyrood, and there have been many changes that will have significant impacts on the built environment sector, writes Jocelyne Fleming, policy and public affairs officer Scotland at the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

John Swinney is the new First Minister and has appointed a largely unchanged cabinet. However, there have been changes to the governance of the built environment.

Planning now falls under the remit of the minister for public finance, while the role of minister for climate action has been newly created.

Oversight of the decarbonisation of and energy-efficiency improvements to Scotland’s built environment has also seen significant change as Patrick Harvie’s role as minister for, in part, zero carbon buildings came to an end alongside the Bute House Agreement.

Beyond changes to personnel, the policy landscape has continued to move forward at pace.

Critically for the construction sector, on 14 May, the Scottish Parliament passed the Housing (Cladding Remediation) (Scotland) Bill, which gives ministers powers to assess and remediate buildings that have unsafe cladding.

Since the CIOB gave evidence on the bill in January, there have been a few amendments, most of them very welcome to the legislation, but there is a long road ahead.

The draft Single Building Assessment, which will be used to assess and report on cladding and life-critical fire safety risks, is also moving along quickly. These assessments, and the cladding programme more broadly, will require significant resources from the sector in terms of ensuring there are enough qualified people to undertake the assessments themselves as well as any mitigation and remediation works they identify.

On 15 May, the government declared a housing emergency, following on from five local authorities, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, which had already done the same. While outlining his priorities for Scotland in a speech on 22 May, First Minister John Swinney also committed to “engage constructively to expand housing supply to meet the needs of the population and tackle homelessness”.

The declaration of a housing emergency does not itself compel any changes to policy or investment into housing, nor does the First Minister’s statement about expanding the housing supply.

However, these are welcome acknowledgements of the challenges being faced across Scotland’s housing system. We will need system-wide, long-term planning and decisive action from the Scottish Government to address these ongoing housing challenges. As our sector knows well, housing isn’t built overnight.

The Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee is currently considering the Circular Economy Bill at Stage 3. This bill and the Circular Economy Route Map that it complements may significantly impact the construction sector.

The route map, as outlined in the Scottish Government’s consultation paper, listed “embedding circular construction practices” as one of its top-line objectives. The bill itself does not put the same emphasis on the sector.

However, given that the most recent figures from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency indicate that nearly half of the waste generated in Scotland comes from construction and demolition, achieving the bill’s objectives will need to include considerable changes to the sector’s ways of working.

Presuming that these changes are made in collaboration with the construction industry, and include long-term clarity and planning, this could be a significant opportunity for the sector.

In addition to these critical developments within policy and politics, the sector also awaits the publication of the final Heat in Buildings Strategy.

The proposals within the strategy could mean big changes – and a significant volume of work – for the construction industry related to energy efficiency upgrades and clean heating systems.

Additionally, the wider challenges with building safety and maintenance that came to light during the progression of the cladding remediation legislation remain a topic of conversation in various parts of Holyrood.

A recent report from the Scottish Law Commission on tenement law and compulsory owners’ associations – borne out of Parliament’s work on tenement maintenance – is an important first step on the road to creating the mechanisms needed to tackle building safety and energy efficiency in buildings with multiple owners.

It is a crowded and fast-moving policy space for those of us working in the built environment sector in Scotland and there will be interest in the outcome of the looming general election and what changes at Westminster could mean for the construction industry.

While this article is by no means exhaustive coverage of the policy landscape in Scotland it covers some key developments and hopefully gives some indication of the breadth of changes for the sector that could be on the horizon.

The construction sector is a willing and capable partner for Government. We will continue to work alongside industry colleagues to advocate for policymaking that is holistic, long-term and gives the sector the clarity, direction, and resources needed to achieve policy objectives.

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