City Building (Glasgow): an inspirational model of low energy social housing and public building production
By Linda Clarke and Melahat Sahin-Dikmen, Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment (ProBE), University of Westminster, UK
City Building is a not-for profit building organization with an in-house training centre, a large apprenticeship scheme, and a highly unionized, directly employed workforce.
In the last ten years, City Building has developed as a successful social enterprise with sustainable and high standard employment and construction practices. As well as continuing to be responsible for maintaining all Glasgow City Council’s building stock and for managing its new construction projects, it competes for work in the open market, developing expertise in low-energy construction and building on its history of social housing production.
What sets City Building apart from any other construction company are the strong social ethos and good employment practices that guide its ‘business model’. Another unique feature is the involvement of the trade unions that played, historically, a significant role in shaping the ethos that underpins City Building’s operations. The Joint Trade Union Council includes representatives from each trade union and is actively engaged with the management of City Building at the highest level, in what is described as ‘a great relationship’.
The European Housing Crisis is the subject of the latest issue of CLR News. Featured in the journal is an article on City Building (Glasgow) by the ProBE (Centre for the Study of the Production of the Built Environment) research team, based at the ACW partner institution, the University of Westminster.
City Building offers an example of how to address the housing crisis. With this publicly accountable model, 2,200 construction workers are employed directly under good trade union conditions, an inclusive manufacturing arm is integrated, a substantial programme of vocational education and training is offered for young people, and good quality and energy efficient social housing is provided for working people in Glasgow and surrounding areas.
Low energy construction
City Building has developed the Glasgow House (see photo), the first of the kind in Scotland. These innovative low energy houses have high levels of insulation and airtightness, efficient heating systems and solar thermal panels and demonstration a two-thirds reduction in energy costs compared with a typical there-bedroom house. The key features of these highly-insulated timber frame houses, with pre-manufactured floor and roof cassettes manufactured by RSBi, are: high levels of insulation; windows and sun rooms to suit orientation capturing sun energy; simple forms of construction using locally-sourced and assembled materials; efficient heating systems using solar thermal panels; educating residents to benefit from special features in their houses.
The City Building workforce is currently involved in various energy efficiency schemes including solar thermal, photovoltaic, combined heat & power, ground source heat pump & voltage & boiler optimization technologies. A 2017 example is off-grid district heating installation, utilizing a Large Scale Air Source Heat Pump as the primary heat source to 350 properties at Hillpark Drive in South Glasgow. City Building also utilizes its own Building Management Systems Team to develop, implement and monitor control systems within Glasgow City Council and The Wheatley Housing Group to ensure buildings are performing as efficiently as possible, in many instances reducing utility bills by as much as 30%.
Trade union involvement
In City Building, the unionisation rate is reported to be nearly 100 per cent, across three unions: UNITE (services, plus former UCATT joiners), UNISON (office staff) and Community (remaining RSBi staff). The Joint Trade Union Council, which includes representatives from each trade union, actively engages with the management of City Building.
“City Building (Glasgow): An inspiring Model for Social Housing Production,” was written by Linda Clarke, Colin Gleeson and Melahat Sahin-Dikmen of the University of Westminster. It is published in the CLR News 3/2017 (European Institute for Construction Labour Research).