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Transforming the Public Estate for a Greener and Smarter Future

With the ever-changing landscape of the workplace, now is the time to look at how to adapt and transform the public estate. For the past 14 years, GovNet Events has been providing a forum for the asset, estates, and facilities sector. The industry is at a turning point with shifting workplaces, looming net-zero goals, and an ageing estate.

The recently published Government Property Strategy sets out how the government will transform the public estate over the next eight years. This year’s Smart Asset and Estate Management Conference explores how government departments are tackling the challenges that a post covid workplace brings, implementing the levelling up agenda while ensuring that buildings are sustainable and energy efficient to hit net-zero targets.

Redefining the Public Estate

The 2050 carbon net-zero goal is a mammoth task for departments across government, one that will not be achieved without cross-cutting action on decarbonisation within our estates. The public estate is a huge contributor, with 156.8 million m2 of floor area in 136,844 built assets across the country. The newly released Government Property Strategy outlines three missions:

  • Transform Places & Services
  • A smaller, Better & Green Public Estate
  • Improve Professional excellence and Insight

Mark Chivers, Government Chief Property Officer at the Office for Government Property will be presenting the keynote address at Smart 2022 and will be discussing the government's 8-year plan. Part of the plan will be to look at how to consolidate the public estate and continue to level up across the UK. One of the initiatives, launched to help redefine the public estate, is the Government Hubs Programme. Clive Anderson, Director of Capital Projects at the Government Property Agency will be discussing the national strategy on Government Hubs and how the programme is helping with regeneration, levelling up and sustainability.

Creating a smaller estate can aid in reaching carbon net-zero targets but it is only a start. Our morning panel at Smart 2022 will look at how the sector can understand the tools that are available and help manage expectations. This expert panel features Simon McWhirter, Director of Communications, Policy & Places at the UK Green Building Council; Louisa LeRoux, Net Zero Programme Manager at the Government Property Agency, Michael O’Doherty, Project Director at Local Partnerships and Joe Tilley, Sustainability and Strategic Portfolio Director at the Crown Commercial Service.

Improving Energy Efficiency through the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme

Another strategy implemented by the government to hit net-zero targets is the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme. It supports the aim of reducing emissions from public sector buildings by 75% by 2037, compared to a 2017 baseline, as set out in the 2021 Net Zero and Heating and Buildings strategies. We will hear from the scheme’s delivery body Salix Finance about the progress being made towards equipping public estates across the country with the funding to access clean, renewable energy to heat buildings and optimise their performance. The latest example of the scheme’s success is the £7.45 million improvement of energy efficiency in Salford’s public buildings, seeing 30 public buildings across the city save 2,498,663 kWh of energy and 584 tonnes of carbon. This discussion will map the path towards reducing fossil fuels as well as making public buildings more comfortable and cheaper to warm.

Technology and Data in the Sector

Reaching net-zero targets and improving sustainability can be aided by advances in technology. CAD/CAM (Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing) are not new to the sector, but their full potential is now only being realised. CAD/CAM allows engineers to design buildings in a virtual environment allowing them to identify and address any issues with the building before construction. However, it is not just new buildings that need to be sustainable and fit for purpose, retrofitting and upgrading the current public estate is a massive undertaking. BIM (Building Information Management) is used to manage all aspects of design, supply chain, construction, and lifecycle of the building.

Since the use of PropTech and data are vital for the development of the industry, we have created a dedicated afternoon stream at this year’s Smart Conference. The stream kicks off with a presentation from Bridget Wilkins, Head of Digital Citizen Engagement at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Bridget will look at the current PropTech Engagement Fund that aims to connect and level up local councils. The fund, in excess of £3.25 million, will be spent on 28 projects across England, trialling cutting-edge digital tools to make the planning system more open, engaging and accessible. Plymouth, South Hams, and West Devon have been awarded £285,000 under the PropTech Engagement Fund; the funding will be used to produce a set of interactive maps for residents to identify what future infrastructure is needed in their local area, to ensure communities have a greater influence on planning policies and delivery plans. Bridget will discuss the fund, and the current projects in the works and will explore how the use of digital solutions can enable wider public participation in designing local communities.

The stream also features a cross-governmental panel discussing how to maximise efficiency in the public estate using data-driven PropTech. Panellists include Christopher King, NHS Open Space Lead and Principal Strategic Asset Manager at NHS Property Services and Ralph James, FM & Technical Services Manager at the Met Office. They will explain how to best utilise and analyse data using flexible reporting systems, increase your property’s performance while decreasing cost and can shed a light on how different departments are using PropTech at present.

Levelling Up Skills

With the rapid onset of digital transformation in government, it is vital to have a workforce ready to tackle the new challenges that might arise. Last year the Cabinet Office announced their Government School of Property, to boost public sector expertise within property management. This programme aims at giving training, and access to industry-recognised accreditation from organisations such as the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the Institute for Workplace and Facilities Management. This programme can cultivate an environment for professional and personal development and fosters relationships between new peers which can have lasting effects. Dr Janet Young, Government Head of Property at the Office of Government Property joins us at Smart 2022 to discuss the progress of the project and how upskilled property professionals can help deliver the 8-year Government's Property Strategy.

Tackling the Backlog     

The Government School of Property is a great programme not only provides professional and personal development for the current workforce but can be a draw for new professionals. The industry needs new faces as there is currently a massive maintenance backlog. The whole public estate has a £21.7 billion annual running cost. In the NHS alone, it is estimated that there is a £5 billion shortfall in maintenance spending across trusts and primary care sites. The NHS is not alone in the facilities struggle, buildings across the public estate are ageing and need repair. Not only is the estate massive it is also spread across departments thus each having its own buildings and particular set of issues. From schools to office buildings each department is struggling with dilapidated buildings to post covid occupancy and can learn from each other.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an increased focus on health and safety within public estates, such as ensuring buildings are adequately ventilated and air filtration systems are sufficiently monitored. Making use of artificial intelligence software throughout a building or estate has shown to be an effective method of optimizing building performance for occupants. It leads to reduced costs, identifies energy wastage, reduces the carbon footprint and removes chances of human error, among other benefits. As the government estate strives for a greener, more sustainable future in line with net-zero commitments by 2050, these systems are essential. We will look at the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on facilities management in public sector estates with an array of renowned panellists, including Craig Varian from the Department of Work and Pensions; Tim Warneford from Warneford Consulting; and Angela Harrowing from the Cabinet Office. They will address methods of improving energy efficiency and what still needs to be done to ‘build back better’ within the workplace.

Next up in the estates' conference series at GovNet is the National NHS Estates Conference on 19th April 2023. This conference offers a platform to discuss how to transform NHS estates to better meet the financial, operational and clinical demands. Complimentary tickets are available to the NHS and public sector, find out more here.

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