British rigid Urethane Foam Manufacturers' Association

From a rollercoaster 2015 to a far-reaching review of delivering quality insulation in 2016

Mel Price, BRUFMA’s Assistant Chief Executive, reflects on 2015 and looks forward to what 2016 has in store

2015 review

2015 has been something of a rollercoaster year. Beginning with uncertainty in the industry regarding what colour of Government would emerge from the General Election, withdrawal of a number of key pieces of legislation and a somewhat flat housebuilding market that reflected uncertainty and a lack of clarity on the energy efficiency retrofit agenda. It was very much a waiting game. However a much more positive end of the year makes me believe that the start of 2016 looks like it will be much livelier with the industry given the responsibility to deliver important improvements.

With a decisive result in the Election there was widespread hope that there would be some clarity of policy particularly to drive housebuilding and address the housing supply problem – an example being the removal of red tape in the planning system long trumpeted by the Conservative party. We in the insulation industry were also keeping fingers crossed that there would be some solid action on the energy efficiency retrofit agenda in construction, given the failure of the Green Deal.

Once in office, albeit with a small majority, the new administration did set to work to remove further obstacles to progress but they went further, with the Productivity Plan seeing off the looming 2016 Zero Carbon Homes target, causing many commentators to ridicule David Cameron’s vow to be the greenest Government ever. In addition the Government removed funding support for the Green Deal leaving the beleaguered initiative’s future in doubt.

Since the election housebuilding has taken off, driven by Help to Buy and removal of some obstacles for housebuilders and insulation manufacturers have reaped the rewards. Companies including PIR/PUR suppliers are working flat out to supply the demand for high quality insulation to meet tighter energy efficiency standards within the Building Regulations.

However what would replace these important energy efficiency incentives going forward to tackle our huge national retrofit challenges? The answer to that question in the short term seemed to be in the hands of the Chief Executive of the BRE, Peter Bonfield. He is a charismatic figure with a considerable pedigree of leading dynamic industry reviews, such as in the UK forestry sector where he instigated an innovative policy of initiating pilot projects which actually feed into the review process. He was tasked by the Government to lead an urgent and independent review of energy efficiency policy with a particular focus on protecting the consumer – with concerns having been made about the mis-selling of early Green Deals and inadequate installation which can undoubtedly damage the reputation of not only ‘green’ measures but the whole industry.

Bonfield recognises the importance of allowing the construction industry to come up with the solutions which will work for consumers but also importantly for the industry itself. To this end he has taken the common-sense approach of inviting the insulation industry to work together on solutions which will be fed into his review, by staging an Insulation Summit on 13 January. This will be a cross-sector event with representatives from the PIR/PUR and other insulation industries, working in a spirit of collaboration to achieve a positive way forward for the home retrofit agenda which the whole sector can get behind.

It is envisaged the Action Plan which will emerge from the Summit will not only have the consumer at the forefront but will provide a road map showing how we get to where we need to be, and where we need to focus our efforts, including where the quick wins are. There is the potential for the design of a consolidated industry-led scheme which does not favour any insulation type but looks objectively at the needs of each project. It would also provide a guarantee to consumers of quality, which would encompass the management of both design and installation which is where many of the problems seem to be arising, not with the products themselves.

BRUFMA is at the forefront of delivering the change in the industry including putting its house in order when it comes to insisting on quality of installation. The challenge is there for us to work smart alongside other organisations and members to ensure that the industry genuinely engages in a new process which will allow all parties to grow the insulation pie jointly for the sake of the whole sector.

Peter Bonfield has done a great job thus far of getting people to sit down together and putting the ball in the industry’s court to focus on what is really important, including installation but also getting specification right. The agenda is not about which is the right fiscal incentive, but about focusing on the quality of the measures installed first, including the right detailing and installation leading to a credible performance guarantee – before looking to consumer engagement and building consumer confidence.  There is every chance that by mid-January, after a somewhat uncertain picture in 2015, we will have a clearer way forward.

Having shepherded the ODA’s sustainable development strategy for London 2012, some might say that he will need to achieve an Olympic feat to bring product suppliers across the industry together to produce an efficiency scheme to the construction industry which works for all. However, by engaging fully with BRUFMA and other bodies and allowing us to decide what will be realistic going forward, he is leading a new spirit of delivery which gives us all hope for 2016.