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Built Environment and Construction

Opinion article: We need a construction industry reboot to achieve a just transition for Scotland’s buildings

Stephen Good
Published on
15 Sep 2023

Stephen Good writes in The Daily Record

Scotland knows the long-term harm that can be caused when national, poorly planned structural change is made overnight – just ask anyone working in the coal or steel industries in the 1980s and 1990s. We need to stop this from ever happening again.

The built environment affects everyone, every day. And transitioning all our buildings – our homes, our schools, our hospitals – to net zero will too, but not in the same way.

This is why Scotland is committed to transitioning in a way that leaves no one behind – and that creates opportunities for the people who live and work here.

There’s a lot of work to do. Over 80% of the buildings we’ll use in 2045 have already been built. To reach our target, these buildings will require significant upgrading through the process known as ‘retrofit’.

The scale of this work throws up questions around who will carry the work out? Who will pay? And how do we carry out such an undertaking in the time we have left?

Supporting Scottish Government to focus on the answers to these questions and accelerate putting solutions into place in a way that creates opportunities for those in the sector is why the Just Transition Commission exists. This perspective has shaped our recommendations to the Government too.

For example, Scottish Government and industry need to have the conversation about who pays for the decarbonisation of the built environment now, not just to make sure we find a way of financing national retrofit before the bill falls to the public, but so we can move onto putting solutions into action and reaping the benefits.

One of the greatest opportunities the transition to net zero will bring is jobs, both for future and current workers. Carrying out retrofit work and creating new, net zero buildings at the pace and scale needed requires an appropriately skilled workforce of designers, coordinators, manufacturers, installers, contractors, and more.

Failure to harness this opportunity in line with growing demand could simultaneously risk not meeting our decarbonisation goals and create a stagnation in the job market at a time when we’ll need more activity than ever.

The Commission recognises that we’ll never create this workforce without changing the perception of the sector as badly paid, dirty and unreliable work. Although this is only sometimes the case, this is the chance to vastly improve the benefits of working in construction and the built environment – and to make these known.

Let’s use the mechanisms we have already, like procurement and legislation, to make the construction sector as attractive as possible, bring in and retain the volume, diversity and level of talent we need to meet our goals.

As we inch closer to 2045, we must remember the path we tread is not just one of environmental responsibility, but of social equity and economic opportunity too. We need to learn the lessons of our past and ensure that this time, we forge a transition that benefits every individual, community and business.

The full article featured in the print version of the Daily Record on Friday 15th September