Wednesday, 11 May 2016

A new perspective

In the first of his monthly blogs, CIBSE President John Field will introduce the primary theme of his Presidency. John will write a blog every month on a variety of topics; encompassing news, views and opinion, that will lend an insight into life at the top of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.


Last week I was given the tremendous honour of being inducted as President of CIBSE by past-President Nick Mead, whose thoughts you have been reading on this blog for the past year. Those who were in the audience at our AGM at the Royal Society will have heard me use my inaugural speech to draw attention to a few issues that are of importance to me, and will be addressed during my term in office (and if you didn’t, a video of it is above!).

In my first blog, I would like to draw further attention one particular issue in action, and what I plan to do to address it.

You’ll likely be familiar with the ongoing discussion over what is to be done about the Palace of Westminster, the world famous home of the UK’s Houses of Parliament, which is currently sinking into the ground – and that’s not the worst of its problems. Having put off decisions to operate on the building’s many faults over the last decade due to the political un-palatability of spending billions on Government buildings, problems have been allowed to mount including; a rats nest of outdated wiring, damp, asbestos, leaky pipes and failing stonework.

The Palace of Westminster is slowly falling apart
As part of the Government’s approach to carrying out the restoration, the Joint Committee on the Palace of Westminster heard evidence from professional bodies including my predecessor Nick Mead as President of CIBSE, who did a terrific job of pressing the benefits of a partial or total decant of MPs to allow for a shorter and cheaper refit.

Rather than working on an active building with the problems this entails; health and safety around live wires, whole sections without power and water for days, and the extra time required to ensure work does not endanger vital systems, MPs should be moved elsewhere on the estate during works to save as much as 20 years and £3bn.

It is clear that moving as many MPs from Parliament during the works is preferable, safer, cheaper, easier and faster, and yet there are still reports in the press that suggest the Government will argue for an extended 32 year rolling programme of maintenance with very high cost – because such disruption spreads the cost and won’t leave as big an annual hole in the balance sheet. A £5.7bn cost over 32 years of hell (with MPs still working in Westminster) to do a mediocre job is politically acceptable; £3.5bn for a relatively fast and much more effective job (with MPs decanted) is not acceptable.

Past-President Nick Mead gives evidence in Parliament
A stellar cast of industry-leading bodies assembled in Westminster that day to give evidence to the committee; including CIBSE, RIBA, RICS and ICE – evidence that it appears that the Government is doing its best to ignore. This brings me to the main point behind my inaugural speech: CIBSE has an unrivalled set of expertise on building services, and we should be the voice of the industry that kicks up a fuss!

Building services should be seen as something that is at the heart of modern-day life – up there with healthcare, the legal professions and banking. People spend 94% of their life inside buildings and transport – they live, work, eat and sleep in them. They keep people alive, healthy and safe, and they also hold the key to solving one of the great issues of our time in climate change.

Buildings are behind nearly half of the UK’s CO2 emissions, and up to 70% of the electricity we generate is used by them – often from less than clean sources. We as an industry have done some incredible things with buildings since 1899 when the Institution of Heating & Ventilating Engineers first met, but a lot of our work is done behind closed doors and is never even noticed by the vast majority of people when it is done right.

The Ideal Home solar house that John helped design and commission. Ground-breaking in 1981!
What I will aim to do during my Presidency is carry forward that aim of raising the industry’s profile, which will include kicking up a fuss if needs be when we see something that isn’t right from a building performance standpoint – whether that’s in the industry, in the media or even in political circles. The incredible initiatives and achievements we carry out every day are vital to the present and future of the world and are inspiring, but we can only spread that inspiration to students, politicians, other professions and the public at large if we find our voice, and share it with the world.

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