Building the right approach: how construction can help overcome the challenges of defence estates

Richard Edwards, Skanska UK’s Defence Director shares insights on how construction can be a strategic partner to overcome the sector’s key estates challenges.

With Defence expectations evermore fluid given global conflict escalation in recent years, the need to modernise an ageing estate and support retention of frontline service personnel is in sharper focus than ever.

I know this need for quality facilities supporting complex operations and the dedicated service personnel working to protect UK sovereignty is felt acutely by our frontline commands.  The challenge has only become tougher with the spike in inflation, followed by rising interest rates that have driven up supply chain and material costs.

There is a real opportunity, however, for construction to play a leading part in helping to balance modernisation with the cost of facilities upgrades – while still delivering high quality spaces that are sustainable for the future.  Value engineering and cost control, alongside smart application of innovation and modern methods of construction can significantly impact programme time, cost, and carbon – delivering industry best practice to maximise return on defence spending.

It can be as simple as identifying opportunities to standardise construction on large-scale programmes – for example, at the British Army’s fleet hub, where Skanska is modernising the site, the team upgraded the built-up roof design for several buildings to a composite panel solution, that could be installed quicker – saving valuable programme time.

Harnessing innovation

Consistent use of digital tools – such as virtual rehearsals – is another way to streamline delivery of large Defence programmes. We’ve seen the impact from this, with the virtual run-through of key construction milestones allowing process improvements to be picked up, the digital walkthrough is also a safe way to eliminate risks. The team working at the British Army fleet hub benefitted from this, when installing vehicle inspection pits in buildings – an example of where, for complex or high-risk activities, digital rehearsals are an effective way to ensure things keep running smoothly.

Considerable shifts in programme time, cost and carbon can also be seen through use of offsite manufacture of key elements. Using these methods to construct a 176-bed accommodation block at Worthy Down – where Skanska transformed the space to create a tri-forces training facility – significantly reduced programme time and lowered carbon emissions, when compared with traditional methods.

Building solutions for the full lifecycle

Efficiency must also stay on the agenda long after construction. We need to take a long-term view, looking at energy efficiency over the building’s lifecycle, as well as smart building management, to optimise and adapt use as occupant habits change over time. For example, installation of more than 1,600 photovoltaic roof panels across four new buildings at Worthy Down, generating more than 400,000kWh of electricity annually, now saves tens of thousands in electricity costs each year. 

Maximising use of data is another way to ensure efficiency across the building lifecycle. For example, Skanska’s Intellekt platform  captures and analyses building data through real-time monitoring, to recommend actions that help reduce energy use and facilities management costs. This has already seen reductions of 35% and 10% respectively at Skanska’s flagship London office, 51 Moorgate.

The key to efficient secure environments

As an industry, we are already using these tools and expertise – the key to unlocking their full value in Defence environments is strategic collaboration. This means the construction industry becoming nimbler to sector challenges and truly understanding the impact on frontline commands. This will enable construction to intuitively offer the right solutions to deliver value for money. Open communication and collaboration across the lifecycle, is also important. We know things change, and even small programme adjustments, can have a significant impact on overall budget.

This also applies to procurement – clearer, faster ways of doing business will support the change needed for our frontline commands, to enjoy the facilities and estate worthy of service personnel for future generations.

Last updated: 26/03/2024