18 October 2023

With over 250 architects, engineers, contractors and manufacturers joining us in person, the 2023 summit was our largest ‘in-person’ event since before COVID-19. NBS CEO Russell Haworth kicked off the day and explained that the day was about building safety, sustainability and digital transformation.

Everyone in the industry is probably aware of the Building Safety Act, but there are questions as to whether everyone in the industry fully understands what their new responsibilities are. With respect to sustainability, there is no doubt now that global temperatures are rising; the big question is how the construction industry will respond to the challenge of reducing its environmental impact.

In terms of digital transformation, BIM has been the buzzword for at least a decade now, but what about machine learning, big data and artificial intelligence – will the construction industry be able to keep up with a rapidly changing digital world?

Russell Haworth, UK Group CEO at Byggfakta

Building safety

Dame Judith Hackitt, who was Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety, was the keynote speaker and reflected on the last six years. The message to industry was that the new regime and associated framework is in place, and that it is now down to the industry to respond and prove that it is competent. Project teams need collaborate a lot more, and manufacturers need to rise to the challenge and show that they can deliver reliable, certified data and rebuild trust. She made it clear that the new regime applies to all construction projects and not just higher-risk buildings – but that the regime is more stringent in terms of monitoring for higher-risk building projects.

She used the planning gateway one submission process to demonstrate how major a change this will be for the industry. 50% of all gateway one submissions were rejected over the first few months – industry had not realized what was needed – but now the number of rejected gateway one submissions is much smaller. By the same logic, if change is not seen, then there will be rejected submissions at gateway two and gateway three, and evidence will be required for any changes to key documentation in between. Any ‘value engineering’ must be about value and must not be about simply slashing costs.

In discussion with NBS CEO Russell Haworth, the subject of product substitution was discussed further. When asked, Hackitt replied:

‘The key is about maintaining good records throughout all stages of a project – design, construction and in occupation. Changes, including substitutions, can still be made but they must be properly considered; they must not compromise the integrity of the building – so any changes to the specification must be recorded’.
Dame Judith Hackitt, Previous Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety

I chaired the discussion panel that followed. There was general agreement around most points; however, there was also a feeling that there is enough room in the process defined by the new regime for the industry to demonstrate what works best. The new process is not completely prescriptive. Examples include:

  1. Design and build – it is not the end of design and build as a procurement route; however, it should mean the end of some of the behaviours observed where there may sometimes be poor change management processes and poor approval processes for proposed changes and for the quality of work completed.
  2. The principal designer role – it is not prescribed that this must be undertaken by an architect at gateway two (prior to construction) and gateway three (prior to occupation); however, on each project, the team must show how the associated duties are to be undertaken with competence.
  3. Specialist subcontractor design – design on elements relevant to building safety should be brought forward, and the gateway two submission should clearly demonstrate how the building will meet the Building Regulations. However, it is still possible that there may be an overlap between final design and construction where descriptive design proposals subsequently receive a prescriptive solution.

We have a series of articles on the new building safety regime for more in-depth analysis.


Gary Clark Principal at HOK and recent lead on RIBA’s sustainable futures and sustainable outcome guide was the key note on the subject of sustainability. Gary demonstrated how annual global emissions of CO2 were still growing and growing and posed the question of how the global community will reach net zero. Frustration on current Government policy was expressed, ‘we’re delaying, dithering and kicking the can down the road – we’ve had a wasted decade and it is heart breaking’.

However, it is believed that the construction industry can rise to the challenge and the RIBA Sustainable Outcomes Guide in association with its 2030 challenge targets are a great place to start. Firstly a project team must understand what their sustainable outcomes are and then have target metrics against each one to measure progress against. In a way similar to how a project budget is reviewed at every stage of a project, the sustainable outcomes must also receive this same amount of planning and scrutiny.

Gary Clark, Principal at HOK

The discussion panel that followed looked at a number of interesting topics:

  1. Sustainability and cost – examples were given where sustainable outcomes had been achieved for the same capital cost. Even if capital costs are 10% higher, this is money that can be made back quickly during the operating phase in terms not only of the heating costs of the building but also the attractiveness of the asset to future occupiers. The risk of costly retrofitting to meet future regulations can also be mitigated.
  2. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) – all of the panel agreed that that these were a very good thing. However, there was an element of frustration that it is difficult to ensure compliance for some products as the units of measure can be different. For example, one paint manufacturer may declare their embodied carbon per 1 kg of paint, while another manufacturer may declare their metrics per 1 m2 of paint.
  3. Government support – it was observed that governments around the world are supporting their industries on their net zero journey; however, more can be done to support UK construction. Support with the cost of developing EPDs for manufacturers and financial support to develop carbon databases were two examples provided.

Digital transformation

Jonathan MacDonald was the final keynote speaker of the day, looking into digital transformation. He engaged and inspired the delegates with a motivational presentation. Some of the points he stressed were:

  • ‘Success is about how well we manage change. Failure is how much we don’t.’
  • 'Purpose + People + Product + Process = Empowerment’ – all four of the first items are needed for success; if you lose one, then success will not follow.

A strong part of Jonathan’s presentation was when he asked the audience to consider ‘Skill’ vs ‘No skill’ against ‘Will’ vs ‘No will’ as a four-by-four matrix. As a business leader, you need to nurture your colleagues in these broad quadrants differently to build success.

Jonathan MacDonald, Entrepreneur and Innovation Expert

I had the pleasure of chairing the final discussion panel, in which technology and business change were discussed. Everything was discussed, from the 2023 McKinsey digital construction report ‘From start-up to scale-up: Accelerating growth in construction technology’ through to whether AI will allow us to talk to whales and dolphins!

Overall, it was a great day. Personally, I loved being at a venue with the chance to meet and talk to so many NBS customers for the first time in a long while. There is so much more I could review from the day, including fantastic customer presentations from Bryden Wood and Bauder. There was an industry forecast from Glenigan, and also my own presentation on some of the recent developments from NBS.

Until next time. Please keep an eye on the NBS website for some of the footage and presentations from the conference. The first one you can subscribe to straight away, join our upcoming webinar and hear from a panel of industry experts as they take a close look at Dame Judith Hackitt's keynote speech about the Building Safety Act as well as other key takeaways from the event. 

Register now