Reflections on UKREiiF 2024

The third UKREiiF was always going to give the built environment sector a lot to think about – and that was before the general election announcement. Scott Corey, Chief of Strategic Accounts & Services, discusses the key things he took away.

Blended investment

Public-private sector collaboration is not a new concept, but its importance in relation to construction and development schemes is growing. At a time when budgets are being squeezed, access to alternative funding options can be the difference between a project being viable or not. This is where private sector support can really demonstrate value.

There is no guarantee there will be government funding to support everything the public sector requires, so there is a need to look at different options, such as public private partnerships (PPPs) and private investment into public estates. Conversations at UKREiiF this year suggest that there is a greater likelihood of positive outcomes when early engagement and blended investment are part of a project’s formula. From our experience, we can also point to a portfolio of projects demonstrating this recipe for success, such as our partnership with Torbay Council and Milligan created to revitalise the town and deliver a once-in-a-generation scheme that may run into the next decade.

Retrofitting and decarbonisation

New developments are exciting and will always be considered as an option capable of contributing to communities, but retrofitting has substantial benefits. It creates opportunities to bring new life into existing buildings by repurposing and creating agile spaces, while enabling decarbonisation options at the same time. Whether it’s education, healthcare, leisure or the blue light sector, there is an abundance of ageing buildings in the UK that can be made more environmentally friendly and fit-for-purpose. Around 80% of buildings in use today are expected to still be in use in 2050*, meaning there is a huge task ahead if the country is to achieve government targets.

Our growing portfolio of retrofit and net-zero enablement projects at Somerset County Council’s County Hall and County Library, Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham and four leisure centres for Oxford City Council. Techniques being used across these projects include repurposing, as well as new lighting, windows, insulation and heating systems, which are often combined to mean existing buildings not only perform better but feel better too.

Social value

Much like sustainability and decarbonisation, social value was a theme present across many talks and conversations at UKREiiF. Within the changes coming into force later this year with the Procurement Act is a requirement for the awarding of public sector contracts to move away from ‘Most Economically Advantageous Tender’ (MEAT) and towards ‘Most Advantageous Tender’ (MAT). This makes it crystal clear that the industry’s focus on social value is here to stay.

Social value is a key element of our business and in 2023 we supported over 5000 people through one of our social value programmes, with 90% of them saying that those programmes had a high impact on their lives.

News of a general election

As the Prime Minister announced in the pouring rain that the general election is set to take place in July, many of us in Leeds were huddled around screens thinking about how this is going to impact industry. Thankfully, the opportunity presented itself to immediately dissect the situation with influential figures across a range of disciplines and roles. I think many would agree that no matter what the result is in July, there will be a period of turbulence as policy changes come into force and new targets are set. The built environment sector is in a strong position to take advantage of opportunities to improve social, economic and environmental conditions.

General elections always bring the bigger picture back into the equation, but UKREiiF attendees were also reminded of the competing regional opportunities that are being pushed by the metro mayors chairing combined authorities. A great example of this is the announcement by the Liverpool-Manchester Rail Board for a new rail link between the two cities, with Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram, the mayors of Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region, saying the scheme would boost the economy of North-West England. Whether short-term or long-term, regional and national plans need to remain ambitious, and the industry's support is needed to maintain momentum.

Where does Willmott Dixon come in?

UKREiiF offered plenty of opportunities to learn and strengthen important relationships, but it was reassuring to be reminded that our focus as a business aligns with the needs of our customers and our supply chain partners. Whether it’s sustainable construction or unlocking funding, our experience and expertise means we’re in a strong position to bring the public and private sector together, make projects happen and allow our towns and cities to feel the benefits of investment and ambition.

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*World Economic Forum