Apart from being the home town of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and lending its name to the only road crossing of the Thames east of London, Dartford in north-west Kent is a fairly anonymous English town.
It has, however, recently acquired a new facility that will certainly raise its profile in the construction world and should have a major impact on the built environment for many years to come. ‘SusCon’ is a brand-new, state-of-the-art learning centre for the building industry focussing on sustainable techniques for new buildings and the renovation of older ones.
In the last week of September I attended an event at SusCon to learn about the building and the services it will provide to our industry. SusCon is a joint initiative between several partners including SEEDA (the development agency for the South east of England), ConstructionSkills, the National Skills Academy and the Homes and Communities Agency.
THE MOST ENERGY EFFICIENT FURTHER EDUCATION BUILDING IN THE COUNTRY
SusCon is built on a brownfield site just to the north of Dartford, with excellent links to the M25 and easy access to rail stations for fast and frequent services to central London. Construction of the building used almost every technique available to minimise its energy consumption and it has been given a Category A Energy Performance Certificate, making it the most energy efficient further education building in the country. Interestingly some parts of the internal roof structure have been left unfinished to show what goes under the skin of a really low energy use building.
From a practical point, SusCon has all the teaching facilities you would expect of any college focussed on construction. A range of rooms, all enabled with the latest IT, for use as classrooms or for meetings, two large, airy and well-lit work areas where most practical techniques can be demonstrated, taught and practiced and an atrium where events and exhibitions can be held. Needless to say, there are also areas where students and other visitors can relax and get refreshments.
UP-SKILL AND MEET THE INCREASE IN DEMAND FOR RETROFIT
Courses at SusCon are already running on a range of topics from domestic refit to writing sustainable development policies for businesses. Most of the courses are designed for small businesses, competitively priced and are of fairly short duration ensuring that those on the courses are not away from site for too long. For example, the course on domestic refit is run over two consecutive days from 10am to 1pm. It is designed for those looking to work in the field of insulating existing homes, and covers both the principles and the techniques for installation, including:
The drivers for insulating existing buildings - a comparison of the costs and benefits
Insulation for lofts, different wall types and floors and the materials and techniques available
Accommodating existing plumbing and cabling
Ensuring adequate ventilation where necessary whilst reducing draughts
Reducing thermal bridging and condensation risks.
Full details about SusCon and the courses it offers are at www.suscon.org.uk. Clearly Dartford is not easily accessible from all parts of the country but this should be a useful facility for those members within a reasonable distance who wish to up-skill either themselves or any of their employees to ensure they are ready for the expected dramatic increase in demand for retrofit, particularly on domestic properties, in the next few years. In the longer term it seems an excellent initiative that could be replicated in other parts of the country.
RETURN TO ACCEPTABLE LEVELS OF NEW HOUSE BUILDING
By the time you read this, the FMB will have published a new report on housing and the barriers that need to be overcome if the supply of new housing is to return to acceptable levels. Reading through the draft it is clear that a major factor has been not just the collapse in the numbers of new homes being built but the shift away from them being built by smaller businesses. 20 years ago around two-thirds of new homes were built by SMEs. Today that’s fallen to a little over one-third. Until politicians face up to the challenges faced by smaller businesses operating in this market, we have little chance of tackling the housing crisis the UK faces.