‎Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has criticised ministers for delaying the final decision of where to build a new runway in the South-East for up to a year.

The Mayor accused the Government of ‘causing unnecessary uncertainty for British businesses already struggling with Brexit.’

His comments came after Downing Street postponed a final decision on expanding Heathrow or Gatwick until late 2017.

The decision means Article 50 – the formal move triggering Britain’s exit from the European Union – is set to be taken before any final decision on airport capacity in the South East.

Khan said “The Government’s decision to yet again delay deciding where to build a new runway will cause unnecessary uncertainty for British businesses already struggling with Brexit.

“Now more than ever, businesses need certainty and stability in order to make investment decisions and to keep jobs in Britain. Instead they are getting dither and delay.

“Now it’s time to get on with building a new runway at Gatwick, which can be built quicker, cheaper, and without the years of legal and political battles that Heathrow clearly faces.”

Juliet Woodcock looks at the latest innovations in the built environment from around the world.

Tom Robinson, founder of Adaptavate, has been named the Shell LiveWIRE Young Entrepreneur of the Year, winning £30,000 in start-up funding for his invention Breathaboard, a plant-based alternative to plasterboard that locks CO2 into buildings.

A builder originally, Tom’s intention is to create a moisture absorbing board that will facilitate what he describes as “healthier people in healthier homes.” His invention is 75% bio-based and the remainder a mineral-binder – non-cementitious – so at the end of its life, Breathaboard is 100% compostable.

Tom explained to R&R: “We are trying to create a board that is a fundamental shift in the way we make materials that will grow into the materials of the future; but what is really important to me is that we’re trying to address the issue of moisture in buildings – that will be the main selling point.”

Financial backing for R&D is in place; as is funding with Bath University to quantify the performance of the product, while Tom is in the process of gaining accreditations such as the BRE Green Guide Rating, but as he reveals, this is a lengthy process – still being at the design stage for the factory to produce the board. The only results back at this early stage of testing is for thermal conductivity, which is half that of traditional plasterboard at 0.089 W/mK.

Meanwhile in Italy, an Italian construction firm has developed a ‘biodynamic’ mortar that is able to remove pollutants from the air automatically. The mortar, which is made from recycled scraps of marble and left over aggregate, absorbs nitrogen oxide and sulphur pollution and converts it into harmless salts. It uses a titanium catalyst that is activated by ultraviolet light to drive the chemical reaction. The salts then wash off the walls when it rains. It has already been used to create a building in Milan called the Palazzo Italia, which was completed for the World Fair in the city in 2015.

Looking further north, researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have developed a transparent wood material that could change the way we construct buildings and solar panels, as well as make glass windows a thing of the past.

The new material is suitable for mass production, the researchers say, and is a low-cost renewable resource. To create the transparent wood, researchers chemically removed lignin from samples of commercial balsa wood. Lignin being a structural polymer in plants and can be found in the cell walls, blocking 80 to 95 percent of light from passing through.

This alone, however, didn’t result in creating a transparent material.

Removing lignin makes the wood white, so researchers added added acrylic to the wood to allow light to pass through.

Cement is still one of the most widely used materials in construction, but also one of the largest contributors to harmful carbon emissions, said to be responsible for around 7 per cent of annual global emissions. Researchers at Bath University, meanwhile, are trying to overcome the problem of cracking in concrete, by developing a self-healing mix; containing bacteria within microcapsules, which will germinate when water enters a crack in the matrix. This will produce limestone, plugging the crack before water and oxygen has a chance to corrode the steel reinforcement.

Kinetic energy is another area of science under the microscope; with Pavegen creating a “transponder” type technology that enables flooring to harness the energy of footsteps. It can be used indoors or outdoors in high traffic areas, and generates electricity from pedestrian footfall using an electromagnetic induction process and flywheel energy storage. The technology is best suited to transport hubs where a large flow of people will pass over it.

Who knows what our bright young things will invent next? However if we can’t halt the slide in education standards – especially for mathematics and science – and bring on a new generation of inventors as well as savvy building professionals, we may find that we not simply dealing with a skills shortage, but a chasm our industry cannot climb out of.

Government plans to clamp down on tax avoidance could have the unintended consequence of causing the UK to lose out on as much as £660m development a year – the equivalent to the construction of Westfield London every year, and approximately 9,000 construction jobs.

The British Property Federation (BPF) has warned that Government proposals to restrict the tax deductibility of interest – which will essentially increase the price of debt – could have a disproportionate effect on debt-reliant industries such as real estate and infrastructure.

The Government has been consulting on recommendations made by the OECD to combat multi-nationals ‘shifting’ profits between different jurisdictions in order to take advantage of the lowest tax rate. It is proposing to restrict the tax deductibility of interest to within 10-30% of a company’s earnings. Interest costs are currently wholly deductible for tax purposes, subject to certain anti-avoidance conditions being met.

The BPF supports the aims of this initiative but is concerned that the proposals go beyond what is necessary to combat tax avoidance and will actually harm investment in UK towns and cities.

In its response to the consultation, the BPF has warned that increasing the overall cost to real estate borrowers will likely lead to a decrease in investment in real estate – a sector which contributes 5.4% of the UK’s Gross Value Added, and which is responsible for building new homes and turning around struggling town centres. It notes that the measures could also affect the UK’s global competitiveness as an investment location and argues that pensioners – who collectively own swathes of real estate through their pension funds – will end up with lower returns as a result of the proposals.

The BPF recommends that interest payments to unrelated parties be given full tax relief, as they pose a very low risk of tax avoidance. The Government should also wait to see how other OECD countries implement the measures so as to not end up out of line and lose competitiveness. Finally, the BPF argues it makes no sense for tax exempt investors such as REITs to be subject to the proposals.

Ion Fletcher, director of policy (finance) at the British Property Federation, commented “While we are wholly supportive of the Government’s plans to clamp down on tax avoidance, the current proposals go much further than is necessary and are particularly punitive for capital intensive industries like real estate. Almost a million jobs around the country rely on sustained investment in commercial and residential property and the proposals put these at risk.

“By making sure the proposals work with – rather than against – the grain of capital intensive industries, the Government could clamp down on tax avoidance without damaging the prospects of regeneration projects throughout the country. We hope that by working with Government, we can come up with a framework that tackles tax avoidance without damaging investment.”

Bill Hughes, head of real assets at Legal & General Investment Management, said “At a time where the private sector’s investment in the totality of the built environment needs to increase, there is a risk that the BEPS initiative acts as a material disincentive. It is critical that the regime is shaped in such a way as to avoid acting as a brake on long-term institutional investment in regeneration and infrastructure, the vast majority of which is for the public benefit.”