I built a tree-house last week. Though I say it myself, it is the work of a craftsman − not too high, not too low, multiple accesses via tree climb, rope ladder and dangling rope and it’s even got a roof.
Hours of fun, yet, because it is constructed from a load of recycled materials hauled out of a neighbour’s skip, the only cost was a bag of nails and a few long screws.
A lesson perhaps for the over-priced UK construction industry! Maybe. But as we face renewed accusations that our costs compared to the rest of Europe are too high alongside the need to reduce public spending, we can ill-afford to ignore the issue of cost.
Of course, there is, on the face of it, very little about the design and construction of my tree-house that compares to a multibillion pound high speed rail job or a nuclear power station. The orders of complexity are clearly a world apart. And it is insane to try to pretend that decent, modern infrastructure can be put together with a collection of recycled materials found in a skip.
“If infrastructure costs too much, especially in this climate, it simply will not get built. We must react to this serious threat. Fast.”
But there are similarities in the fact that if infrastructure − be it a nuclear power station, a railway or my tree-house − costs too much then, particularly in this climate, it simply will not get built. It is this very serious threat that we must now react to. Fast.
Fast because we still have a huge amount of political support for using infrastructure investment as a key to kick−starting the economy. Both the Labour and Conservative party manifestos published this week maintain their commitment to transport projects such as Crossrail and energy projects such as new nuclear and renewables.
The Lib Dem’s is published after NCE goes to press but it is clear that they will retain equal commitment to properly funded, value for money infrastructure.
It is right, therefore, that the Treasury puts the cost of delivering these vital but expensive projects under scrutiny. It is right that we have a good long look at exactly what our scarce public cash is buying us. Understanding why we do things in the way that we currently do them will be key. And I suspect that we will find that the future will have to be about doing things differently.
“If you are not involved in the retrofit market now then it is a sure bet that you will be by the end of the decade.”
Which brings me to retrofitting. This week NCE launches the new Retrofit Awards which recognise and reward the growing role that this sector will play in allowing us to deliver lower costs and lower carbon in the future.
Have a look − because if you are not involved in the retrofit market now then it is a sure bet that you will be by the end of the decade.
Mind you, whether tree-houses count as retrofitted dwellings I’m not sure. But award winner or not, mine was designed and priced to get built. And right now that is the crucial first hurdle to clear.
- Antony Oliver is NCE’s editor