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The worm turns in the move towards sustainable progress

legal matters

In my recent column about what can be gleaned from other people's bookshelves (AJ 12.8.04), I overlooked to mention my well-thumbed copy of Mary Applehof's Worms Eat My Garbage. (The enthusiasm of myself and my learned roommate for our wormeries and the compost that they make is unhappily not shared in our respective domestic establishments, hence the need to look up and debate the finer points here. ) You might need a copy sooner than you think. Poised to become law is the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill, which will extend the purposes for which Building Regulations may be made to include making provision for recycling and composting facilities. If and when regulations are made pursuant to this, you may want to consider Applehof's suggestions for accommodating composting facilities, which include a wormery in a glass-topped coffee table in your living room.

I have been alerted to this by Gina Brill of Buro Happold, who is writing a dissertation on the process of reform of the Building Regulations*. She has assembled information about the development and progress of the bill. Its title is something of a misnomer, explained by the process by which it is becoming law. It is in effect an amendment to the Building Act 1984, pursuant to which the present Building Regulations have been made. Such matters are the preserve of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, but that department did not have sufficient parliamentary time to get the bill through. It was therefore introduced as a private member's bill by Andrew Stunell MP, who won the ballot to introduce a bill, and was persuaded to take on this government 'handout'. It seems that one reason for the rather trendy title was to make it easier to interest an MP in promoting it.

In addition to the important matter of compost, the new legislation (the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004) will provide that Building Regulations may be made for various new purposes.

It marks a significant and substantial expansion to the present regime. The broad purposes for which regulations may be made will now include:

l furthering the protection or enhancement of the environment;

l facilitating sustainable development; and l furthering the prevention or detection of crime.

Schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984 will be amended to specify that this could include provisions in respect of many specific matters. It is here that composting facilities get a mention. Also in the list are other environmental measures, including energy efficiency of appliances and equipment to monitor and measure supplies of electricity. It seems that parliament wants to keep tabs on the progress of matters environmental. The secretary of state is required to report back regularly after the bill becomes law on progress on the environmental purposes set out, in the context of the building stock in England and Wales.

The other limb of the legislation, security, is potentially wide ranging. Requirements can be imposed as to security of buildings and the installation and inspection of security systems. Brill's research shows that during parliamentary debate Stunnell cited the use in a housing development of windowpanes that could be easily removed from the outside, which gave rise to a significant security issue.

When the developer wanted to use the same windows in another development, the police and building control had no power to stop it.

On a larger scale, it is likely that the government may quickly want to use the power to require security systems such as controlled access and CCTV to be installed and maintained in order to help it in its ongoing battle against crime and terrorism.

It remains to be seen what regulations will be made under the act, which is expected to be given Royal Assent this autumn. There will doubtless be consultation on the form and content of the new regulations, and a clearer picture will emerge on what the government wants to do with its new powers. Meanwhile, if you start work on that prototype coffee table, I would be very interested to know how you get on.

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