New R&D centre for digital transformation in £170m sector deal

The government has committed £5.4m to fund a centre of excellence in Cambridge to champion the digital evolution in the built environment.

The centre is part of a landmark construction sector deal announced in the Industrial Strategy.

Business secretary Greg Clark revealed more information about the sector deal yesterday which will see the government provide £170m over three years through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, with the expectation that another £250m of match funding for research and development will come from construction to develop ways to improve productivity.

The Centre for Digital Built Britain is a partnership between the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the University of Cambridge to support the transformation of the construction sector using digital technologies to better plan, build, maintain and use infrastructure.

The centre will focus on the ongoing transformation of the built environment through the digital tools, standards and processes that are collectively known as Building Information Modelling (BIM).

The centre will continue the work of the Digital Built Britain programme and the UK BIM Task Group to support delivery of the government’s Digital Built Britain strategy.

Led by Professor Andy Neely, pro-vice chancellor: enterprise and business relations at Cambridge University, the centre builds on the expertise and experience of faculty from the Cambridge Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (CSIC), Cambridge Big Data, the Distributed Information and Automation Lab (DIAL), the Cambridge Service Alliance (CSA) and the Institute for Manufacturing to form a Research Bridgehead.

The Bridgehead will work with a team of specialists from Digital Built Britain and partners from industry and academia to develop and demonstrate policy and practical insights that will enable the exploitation of new and emerging technologies, data and analytics to enhance the natural and built environment, thereby driving up commercial competitiveness and productivity, as well as citizen quality of life and well-being.

“The University of Cambridge is delighted to have been invited to host the Centre for Digital Built Britain, which will work in partnership with government and industry to improve the performance, productivity and safety of construction through the better use of digital technologies,” said Neely.

“The construction and infrastructure sector are poised for a digital revolution, and Britain is well placed to lead it,” said Dr Jennifer Schooling, director of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction. “Over the next decade advances in BIM will combine with the Internet of Things, data analytics, data-driven manufacturing and the digital economy to enable us to plan new buildings and infrastructure more effectively, build them at lower cost, operate and maintain them more efficiently, and deliver better outcomes to the people who use it.”

Greg Clark said: “The agreement embodies our vision for a modern Industrial Strategy, with government and industry working together in a strategic partnership towards the common goal of higher productivity, and a more skilled construction workforce with more earning power.

Andrew Wolstenholme, chair of the Construction Leadership Council, said: “I am delighted that construction has been included in the first wave of sector deals. It presents a huge opportunity for one of the UK’s largest industries and the broader economy.”

An important strand of the strategy is “Procure for Better Value”, which will build a critical mass of clients and advisers equipped to use outcome-based procurement thus driving efficiency in capital programme delivery and lifetime performance.

Ann Bentley, Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) global board director and Construction Leadership Council (CLC) member, has worked closely with industry colleagues to develop this theme.

“RLB is delighted to support this ground-breaking government/Industry collaboration, and looks forward to the next exciting phase,” said Bentley.

The CLC, which will lead the implementation of the sector deal, is now convening a cross-industry group to take forward this work. The first stages are:

  • To develop an industry-wide definition of value which takes into account more than capital cost.
  • To produce a universal methodology for procurement using this definition of value.
  • To promote common and consistent standards across industry.

As well as the new centre of excellence in Cambridge the government confirmed that part of its £170m had already been allocated to a number of other new projects. These include construction innovation hubs in Swansea and Coventry.

In addition, construction giant Aecom has been handed £1.4m to develop Building for 2050, a project aimed at unlocking the barriers to developing low-cost and low-carbon housing.

Sector deal objectives

With the sector focused on delivering on the three key themes above, the deal has four clear objectives that it is committed to achieving by 2025:

  • 33% reduction in the cost of construction and the whole life cost of assets.
  • 50% reduction in the time taken from beginning-to-end of new build and refurbished assets.
  • 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the built environment.
  • 50% reduction in the trade gap between total exports and total imports of construction products and materials.

Image: Nicolae Gherasim/Dreamstime

The University of Cambridge is delighted to host the Centre for Digital Built Britain, which will work with government and industry to improve the performance, productivity and safety of construction through the better use of digital technologies.– Professor Andy Neely, University of Cambridge

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  1. Like so many other Government tech ‘Centres’ this one is located in the wrong place. The UK’s BIM SMEs are mostly sited in Manchester, London or a new cluster in Newcastle. Why Cambridge University was chosen is a mystery!

    The Composites centre should not be in Bristol, it should be in the East Midlands; the Energy Catapult should be in the NW – where nearly all of the UK’s world class power engineering SMEs are found – and not in Birmingham; and the Digital catapult in London should be.. well, closed down as an empty, unwanted £3m folly.

    The whole Catapult centre network, promoted by Hermann Hauser, a brilliant company man but hopeless at innovation strategy, should be shut down immediately – industry does not need any one of them.

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