Norfolk building industry told of the challenges of the future

Construction firms from across the region have heard of the opportunities and challenges ahead to both kick-start growth and deliver thousands of greener homes in and around Norwich.

More than 200 delegates attended the Constructing Norfolk's Future Conference at the John Innes Centre on December 1, which included a large focus on how the delivery of thousands of new homes in the greater Norwich area.

Chris Glaze, from BRE, said the industry faced both a number of opportunities and constraints. Many of the challenges were linked to how to achieve the objectives of the 'big beasts of the legislative world' including the Climate Change Act, which calls for an 80pc reduction in emissions by 2050, and also the Energy Act.

However he said that developments could be held up in the shorter term as planners and developers interpret the coalition's shake-up of the national planning system with its focus on the presumption of sustainable development.

Mr Glaze said that the building industry is likely to see an emphasis on 'fabric-first' solutions linked to improved insulation and ventilation, as well as technology promoting heat and water recovery within buildings.

And he said that could help create new jobs both on and off sites as additional skills will be needed.

'I think we are going to see a big emphasis on learning new on-site skills, and much more 'triple glazing',' he said. 'There's opportunities for manufacturers, developer and construction companies.'

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However key to delivering the new homes in the Broadland area will be whether the government will release funding to develop the Postwick hub and the Northern Distributor Road (NDR).

Phil Kirby, chief executive of Broadland District Council, said policymakers were expecting an announcement from the Department for Transport in the middle of December.

'The Postwick hub and the NDR are crucial pieces of infrastructure to kickstart the development in the north-east of Norwich, and we are still optimistic that those projects will come through,' Mr Kirby said.

'It's all highly reliant on the state of the national economy, but the government has clearly recognised that one of the things which will help is construction and the key to getting that moving is infrastructure projects.

'The strapline of the Greater Norwich Development Partnership was 'jobs, homes, and prosperity',' he added. 'Everyone focuses on the number of houses, but it's always been a complete package. It isn't just about building houses, it's about providing prosperity. This is our contribution to kick-starting that process.

'We are supporting local businesses that are going to benefit from the opportunities that arise from that growth. If everyone who is here seizes that opportunity, it's got to be good for Norfolk businesses.'

Peter Weavers, chairman of Build Norfolk, said the aim of the event was to help local companies tap into the opportunities available linked to the drive for greener growth.

'There are huge opportunities in this field and what we are trying to do is make sure Norfolk businesses get the chance and the skills to respond,' he said. 'Our overall ambition for Norfolk is to be recognised as a leader in this type of technology.'

Stephen Crane, commercial manager of Broadland Windows, based at the Hellesdon Business Park in Norwich, said there was still work to be done in helping firms to seize the opportunities available.

'The supply chain is only partially ready but they can be ready quite quickly,' Mr Crane said. 'What is not ready for us is the costings of the projects ahead. It is an opportunity but the readymade solutions are from the continent, and they have already got a foot in the door. The British companies have to catch up a bit.'