In the Viewpoint column of PBM’s May issue, editor Paul Davies discussed the easing of lockdown restrictions and the premature closure of the Government’s latest sustainability initiative, the Green Homes Grant.
With the country taking further steps forward on its roadmap to recovery, getting back to some form of normality edges closer. As non-essential retail reopens — including more capacity for showrooms to further expand their services — and the public can contemplate getting a haircut and having a pint outdoors, we can but hope that the cautious path is indeed “irreversible”.
And whilst we have been broadly in this position before, the continued success of the vaccine rollout seems to have changed the game completely. This presents the Government with yet another awkward conundrum — success is, in essence, invisible and if the loosening of restrictions has only a limited impact on coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths, the clamour will grow for an even more rapid return to business as usual.
This curious logic — restrictions are working, therefore there’s no need for restrictions — has underpinned so much of the pandemic debate, and is clearly uncomfortable ground for a government and especially a Prime Minister whose laissez-faire instinct runs deep. But whatever the frustrations with the pace of reopening, we must accept there’s a long road ahead in any eventuality — and whatever the ‘new normal’ will truly look like remains to be seen.
Will home-working, or at least a hybrid blend, become a permanent feature? What will be the ultimate impact on jobs once the government support measures such as the furlough scheme come to an end? How do we re-evaluate the make-up of our towns and city centres, following the accelerated ecommerce hammer blow to the High Street over the last year?
For the merchant sector and indeed the wider construction industry, plenty of questions have to be confronted — the ongoing nature of front of house trading operations, the safe return of office staff and the longer term impact of online trading, not least in relation to customer preferences and the broader threat of ‘other’ digital competitors.
For the industry at large, the potential for a sustained RMI boom offers tangible hope as many individuals emerge from the pandemic with cash saved and a desire to adapt their homes for a new future. Others may not be in such a fortunate position. In terms of the new build sector, there are myriad questions of a different nature — proximity to commuter-friendly transport links and open plan living may now be trumped by green space and a home office in the eyes of potential buyers.
Where and how we need to build our new homes may not be the same as it was 18 months ago.
We all crave the familiarity and freedom of face to face interaction with colleagues, or going for a meal with friends, but I hope that the determination for ‘business as usual’ doesn’t serve to eliminate sensible conversations about re-evaluating our previous procedures. There are big issues to address and the pain felt by so many, in numerous ways, since last March would surely be ill-served by a wholesale return to ‘the way it was’ just because that seems easier than reaching for more imaginative and ambitious solutions.
With so much up for debate, it is painfully ironic there has been an all too predictable air of the inevitable with the failure of yet another Government sustainability drive as the Green Homes Grant joins the Green Deal on the scrapheap. For all the early hope, it offers a perfect example of where bigger thinking is required.
A far-reaching National Retrofit Strategy — taking a more measured and broader approach to the much-needed upgrading of the nation’s homes — must now be considered. And crucially, it must be developed firmly in harness with the industry itself, and delivered in a way that complements the existing supply chains.
As we move into an uncertain future, such things really shouldn’t be beyond us…
“With so much up for debate, it is painfully ironic there has been an all too predictable air of the inevitable with the failure of yet another Government sustainability drive as the Green Homes Grant joins the Green Deal on the scrapheap.”