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BESA National Conference 2021 – Highlights

BESA Conference 2021 – Highlights
09 November 2021 | Updated 18 November 2021

The BESA Conference was opened by the association’s president Neil Brackenridge who explained that the overall theme was “Building back better, safer, greener”.

“We will be looking in detail at how we as an industry are contributing to rebuilding the economy as well as delivering the requirements of new building safety legislation, modernising the sector’s workforce, and pushing on towards a net-zero emissions future,” he said.

BESA Chief Executive, David Frise, added that the two-day event would be a platform for “the return of hope” as the building engineering sector looked to promote its role in delivering low carbon solutions and raising professional standards.


George Clarke Says VAT on Refurbs Should be Scrapped


TV personality and architect George Clarke has urged the government to help power “a global retrofit revolution” by abolishing VAT on the restoration and conversion of existing buildings.

During his keynote address on the first day of the conference, he said the construction and building engineering sectors could play a key role in addressing the climate crisis but financial incentives would be needed to encourage investment and new approaches from building owners.

He described current government measures to address the carbon impact of housing as “a drop in the ocean” and said the fact that 10 per cent of all UK households were suffering from fuel poverty was a “national scandal”.

“We wasted six years when the government dropped its Zero Carbon Homes plan and the Green Home Grants scheme only lasted six months…we need to think much, much bigger…and show everyone why improving their homes is to their benefit and how it can help them save money.”

Clarke told the conference that the construction industry would also need to improve its performance and said the Grenfell Tower disaster exposed “just what a mess the building sector is in”. He said the Hackitt Review that followed the fire “did not go far enough” and said there needed to be more honesty about product and material test results.


Professor Noakes Calls for Professional Ventilation Accreditation


The keynote on the second day of the conference was one of the government’s top scientific advisors.

Professor Cath Noakes said that the pandemic had increased understanding of how the disease is transmitted around indoor spaces and raised public awareness of the importance of mechanical ventilation.


“I never thought I would see the day when the Prime Minister and the Chief Scientific Officer were talking about ventilation”

Professor Cath Noakes

Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings, University of Leeds


“I never thought I would see the day when the Prime Minister and the Chief Scientific Officer were talking about ventilation,” said Noakes, who is one of two engineer members the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

She told the conference that the pandemic had exposed systemic failings in how we design and retrofit buildings and said we should pay far more attention to the impact of poor ventilation on human health and productivity.

“Many of our buildings are under-ventilated and there is no excuse for it,” said Noakes, who is Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings at the University of Leeds and an expert in fluid dynamics.

“This is not just about complying with regulations. We also need to show clients that there is a benefit to them through the health and wellbeing of people. We know buildings improve health and that poor indoor air quality reduces productivity by up to 9 per cent - that’s half a day a week.

“Before the pandemic, 5.3 million working days were being lost every year to respiratory infections [figures from the Office for National Statistics], but it is still not as tangible as your energy bill, so we need to push that message harder,” she told the conference.

She agreed with BESA chief executive David Frise that people operating at the “sharp end” had a bigger part to play in the development of practical solutions to building operating problems. Professor Noakes said it was important that ventilation contractors were included in wider discussions because they understand what works in the real world and what clients can be persuaded to pay for.

“We also need to look at professional accreditation [for the ventilation sector] because we are not applying the same standards to the ventilation industry as we do to gas and electricity, for example,” she added.

She also called for better evaluation of systems in use to assess whether the ventilation was delivering what occupants need, had been correctly installed and commissioned, and was being adequately maintained.

“The increased amount of indoor air quality monitoring since the pandemic is helping because it is making people more aware of their indoor environment,” she told delegates at the two-day online event. “However, it is now clear that it is very hard to naturally ventilate buildings adequately in winter.”

Professor Noakes also warned building owners and managers to be wary of many of the new solutions being promoted – some of which she described as “snake oil”.

“We seem to know a lot about the new technologies emerging into the market, but some of the existing solutions are probably better – we just need to measure what they are doing. They also need to be well-maintained,” she said.

Professor Noakes added that approaches to ventilation had been prioritising comfort and energy efficiency, rather than health and productivity, for more than 30 years and it was now time for a change of emphasis.

Highlights from the conference will shortly be available on BESA's YouTube channel

Picture: a photograph of Professor Noakes

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 09 November 2021


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