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The Regs: Geoff Wilkinson explains why timing is of the essence if you are making a planning application

The government can do much in the way of deregulation in order to boost the commercial market

Building regulations have been front page news over the past month as the mainstream and technical press have reported (and often misreported) on policy U-turn after policy U-turn. The coverage of changes to planning, suggesting that permission is no longer needed to extend your home by up to 8m, has been ill-informed, with little or no reference to the need to still seek building control approval. As a result, I expect to see a rise in unauthorised extensions built by people who believe permission is no longer required. The view is shared by Local Authority Building Control (LABC), which has taken the unprecedented step of issuing a press release on this.

Paul Everall, LABC chief executive says: ‘Changes in planning laws have not removed the requirement for property owners to follow building regulations which ensure buildings are safe and sustainable. Building regulations are separate from planning permission and
our primary concern is that safety in and around
buildings is maintained.

‘There still needs to be an awareness that building regulations will still apply to many of these extensions and where the property owner is looking to make structural changes to an existing property.’

Architects, I’m sure, are aware there has been no relaxation of the need to make a building control application, and should ensure clients realise this. Indeed, the reverse could be true as the coalition wrestles with the issue of consequential improvements (CI). Flagged in the consultation as linked to the take-up of their Green Deal policy, CI presents the coalition with a conflict between their desire to be the ‘greenest ever’ government and the need for additional regulation. There can be little doubt a mixed message would arise if DCLG chose now to introduce mandatory CI to extensions (the so-called ‘conservatory tax’), given the Treasury’s commitment to ‘get Britain building’ its way out of recession.

I fully expect the government to delay any decision from the planned October update to the January milestone for the draft ADs to be published. But the government can still do much in the way of deregulation in order to boost the commercial market. In particular, the repeal of Local Acts such as Section 20 of the London Building Acts (Amendment) Act of 1939.

For those unfamiliar with the Act, it applies to buildings of excess height (25m+) or cubical extent (>7,100m3), dating back to a time when the fire service considered buildings of this size problematic. As a result, the Act requires higher standards than those in Part B, including the provision of sprinklers in office buildings. Since the Act only applies within the original London County Council boundaries, there is currently the bizarre situation where a warehouse in Hackney would require sprinklers whereas an otherwise identical building on the opposite side of the road in Waltham Forest would not.

These requirements add significant costs to developments which DCLG now accepts cannot be justified. These include not only the cost of extra work, but also that of the application for section 20 approval, with some local authorities charging as much as £2,000 to process an application. The repeals also affect many areas outside London, named in the draft order published in January. It makes clear that conditions imposed under the Local Acts would not be enforceable after the repeal date, so projects on site could be affected. Great care must be taken that sprinklers are not still required as part of a fire-engineered design, or to satisfy insurance or operational requirements, before deciding they are no longer needed.

In short, architects must keep a close eye on the potential changes in the next six months as the timing of applications to meet or beat them could add or subtract significant project costs.

Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of approved inspectors Wilkinson Construction

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