Building Ireland 2040: The need for greater digitisation and climate action is now stronger than ever

by | Jun 15, 2021

The year 2040 seems a long way off but it’s not. By then, we will have to have built new homes and provided jobs for an additional one million people across Ireland.

The way we build now has to change. We need to build smarter and with a lower carbon footprint. As part of the Construction Sector Group (CSG), Innovation and Digital Adoption team, it’s our job to set out the roadmap for that new build challenge.

We need all hands on deck for this great new quest. Over the past nine months, this innovation team of some 80 professionals have been laying out the early plans to deliver a smart new construction industry.

These plans are embedded in our seven Priority Actions:

1. To research Next Generation Construction

2. To procure funding to research new technologies

3. To develop Modern Methods of Construction

4. To construct a new Digital Construction Skillnet

5. To digitise our planning permission application processes

6. To build a new BIM platform to our particular needs

7. To set up a new Centre of Excellence for the construction industry

With the help of Enterprise Ireland this Centre of Excellence, which we will call our new Construction Technology Centre, will be a go-to place for us all.

It will be a place for all facets of modern low carbon construction engineering and architecture, to encourage modern apprenticeships in the digital space and to teach and upskill our future generations.

To achieve the delivery of these seven Priority Actions, we have been working collaboratively as a team driven by our Action Leaders, sharing our learnings and experience undeterred by the shadow of Covid-19 but always conscious of the public health threat and the sad loss experienced by our many families.

In close collaboration with Enterprise Ireland, we have a work flow currently under way through a Detailed Description of Needs (DDN) by procuring EY consultants to survey our stakeholders, review national and international trends, benchmark the remarkable international initiatives in order to build a new Research Development and Innovation Ecosystem.

This will deliver what our future priorities will be in terms of a new Construction Technology Centre through a combination of Technology and Innovation, Digital Adoption and Modern Methods of Construction while also being attentive to the environmental, sustainability and circular economy imperatives – all within the CSG Seven Actions Framework.

PJ Rudden

Calling time on a ‘race to the bottom’ culture

Central to these Priority Actions will be the appointment this July of a consortium of third level colleges and industry leadership alliance with international benchmarking to undertake a five-year project to embed and upskill the construction industry in Building Information Modelling (BIM).

This will include 3D design and upwards to 4D and 5D workflow to better manage scheduling, programme and cost control, 6D to measure carbon footprinting and 7D to assess whole life attributes in asset management terms.

Such a modelling effort will help us all to provide smarter and better integrated project management going forward. We hope that this will prevent the current contracting ‘race to the bottom’ where cost is the sole criterion for contract award and quality inevitably suffers while financial disputes abound.

A new more equitable Form of Contract is required that rewards innovation and excellence in building, with risks shared in proportion to the ability of each party to effectively manage that risk.

Hopefully with the improved integrated management systems, we can manage contracts better in addition to using maximum collaboration to engender innovation in new ways. This means building with greater proportions of off-site manufacture and modular design made simpler by bringing more industrial design into modern buildings and infrastructure.

A net zero carbon target for 2050

A greener future for 2040 and beyond is the other great challenge as climate change is now a clear and present danger. In future, we need to use materials with lower embodied carbon to ensure that we can build sustainably to meet the Climate Action Plan targets to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by half over the next decade and to net zero carbon by 2050.

By 2030 and again by 2040, we will have vastly better measurement tools to measure our sustainability performance and to ensure that we are on track. One of the most fascinating and rewarding of our seven Priority Actions is to discern what new funding models will better deliver more innovation and digital adoption as we go forward.

It is therefore no surprise that the vast majority of public responses to renew the National Development Plan concern the need for greater climate action and ensuring security of our essential utilities of water, power, broadband, communications and cybersecurity.

Over the past year and in recent months, we have all come to appreciate more fully that the public health, welfare and well-being of our people is the most important aspect of life.

That is why we all want the best possible newly constructed Ireland by 2040 and beyond.

PJ Rudden is Construction Innovation and Digital Adoption Group Chairman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

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