Incidents such as the Grenfell Tower tragedy and Mascot and Opal Tower evacuations have affected trust in the construction industry.

In 2016, McKinsey and Co reported that construction was the second-least digitalised sector in the world.

According to Professor Srinath Perera, Director of Western Sydney University’s Centre for Smart Modern Construction, increased digitalisation could reduce costs and improve productivity, efficiency and accountability and compliance with building standards.

“We want to give people confidence that the buildings they are occupying are safe and reliable. To do this we need to improve digitalisation of the construction sector,” he said.

But there are tools that can help. In particular, ‘smart’ construction technologies such as building information modelling (BIM) can create a ‘digital twin’ of buildings, including the structure and services such as plumbing, electrical and fire protection systems. This improves communication between the many different engineering disciplines involved in building design, architects and other stakeholders.

Perera is one of the authors of a recent report initiated by Construct NSW which investigates the digital readiness of the state’s construction industry. The report found that 42 per cent of the sector was approaching mid-level digital maturity. But only 29 per cent had smart capability equivalent to BIM.

Engineers Australia supported the research and facilitated the participation of members in the survey that informed the report.

Trust is a major driver

The report drew on data from a survey of 542 NSW building designers and builders involved in the construction of medium to high rise residential buildings. Seventy per cent wanted to increase digitalisation to achieve greater accuracy and trustworthiness. Other top drivers were improving quality and standards (66 per cent) and delivering on time, on budget and to required quality (61 per cent).

The major barriers to digitalisation were software license costs (67 per cent) and hardware expenses. This was particularly true for small organisations with fewer than 20 staff, which make up 80 per cent of NSW’s construction industry.

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The Timber Trade Federation says that is ‘highly likely’ there is now enough timber in the county – so if you still can’t get wood, blame the lorry driver shortage.

More than seven million cubic metres of timber and panel products were imported into the UK between January and July 2021, according to the latest Timber Trade Federation (TTF) market statement.

This is nearly two million cubic metres more than in the same period in 2020, and half a million (or 8%) above pre-Covid 2019 levels.

These record-breaking volumes of imports reflect high demand for timber products with a strong RM&I sector and a resurgent private housing market having kept supply on allocation, the TTF said.

Timber prices, and structural softwood in particular, experienced rapid increases over the course of 2021. The average price of sawn and planed softwood in May, June and July rose by 55%, 65% and 88% respectively over their corresponding months in 2020.

Nick Boulton, TTF head of technical and trade, said: “After a year of record production and nine months of near record structural softwood imports it is highly likely the UK is at a point where there is sufficient volume of wood at UK ports and in the UK timber supply chain to satisfy construction demand.

“With Q3 now behind us, which we viewed as a real pressure point this year between supply and demand for timber products, we expect that over the coming months we will find there is greater stability within the UK market.

“However we are not yet out the woods as any return to ‘regular’ patterns within the UK market will be difficult amidst the ongoing shortage of HGV drivers, and in fuel and labour, which are likely to continue to impact the market in the coming months.

“These shortages are of high concern to the timber supply chain as while there may now be enough timber in the UK to meet demand it does little good to anyon"e when there are no means to transport stock from ports to warehouses or customers."

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The UK government has published plans to reduce carbon in the nation’s domestic heating systems.

A sum of £450m has been allocated to give households grants of £5,000 to install low-carbon heating systems – enough to replace 90,000 boilers across the UK.

The grants become available from April 2022 and are set at a level, the government says, that mean people choosing to install a heat pump will pay a similar amount as if they were installing a traditional gas boiler.

The boiler upgrade scheme is part of more than £3.9bn of new funding for decarbonising heat and buildings. This will fund the next three years of investment through the social housing decarbonisation fund, the home upgrade grant scheme, the boiler upgrade scheme and the heat networks transformation programme, and reducing carbon emissions from public buildings through the public sector decarbonisation scheme.

The thinking behind the boiler grants is to encourage people to go green at this stage, rather than force them, and to support a nascent industry whose costs should come down as it gains mass.

The government’s new target is for all new heating systems installed in UK homes by 2035 to be either using low-carbon technologies, such as electric heat pumps, or supporting new technologies like hydrogen-ready boilers. No one will have to rip out gas boilers that are still functioning, the government says.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: “As we clean up the way we heat our homes over the next decade, we are backing our brilliant innovators to make clean technology like heat pumps as cheap to buy and run as gas boilers – supporting thousands of green jobs.

“Our new grants will help homeowners make the switch sooner, without costing them extra, so that going green is the better choice when their boiler needs an upgrade.

“The heat and buildings strategy sets out how we are taking ‘no-regrets’ action now, particularly on heat pumps, whilst supporting ongoing trials and other research and innovation on our future heating systems, including on hydrogen. We will make a decision on the potential role for hydrogen in heating buildings by 2026.

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