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The building regs review: the industry reacts

AJ readers respond to the government’s plans to cut back ‘complex and confusing’ housing standards and building regulations in its latest bid to kick-start development

Earlier this week communities minister Don Foster officially launched an independent review, headed by a group of building industry experts, to simplfy ‘the mass of rules imposed on developers and housebuilders’ and remove ‘unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy’. So what do you think of the plans?

Martin King of Douglas and King said: ‘It is important the building regulations periodically re-invent themselves so that all of the individual updates and revisions to approved documents can be co-ordinated and simplified. However the building regulations are not considered high on the list of criteria volume housebuilders look at when they consider the viability of a project.

We would all be far better off if VAT was reduced

‘Projects are driven by construction economics and resale values coupled with the availability and cost of suitable building plots. If the government wants to stimulate construction at the smaller scale, as they suggested in their temporary ‘planning free for all’ for home extensions, we would all be far better off if VAT was reduced on works to existing buildings than by allowing standards to slip.’

Baerbel Schuett, development director at Londonewcastle, said: ‘The building regulations have only a very small impact on whether or not a project gets realised and build. Yes, there are potential capital cost burdens arising through the ever tightening energy regulations. However in my opinion the key to unlocking projects to be realised remains the planning process and funding. Building Regulations are fairly clear and known factors and can be built into a design and viability assessment. Building regulations have also led to the industry having to react positively on the requirements [such as new energy saving regulations]. The clarity that regulations offer is, on the other hand, not provided by the planning process - this remains a huge unknown hurdle for any project, particularly larger scale regeneration projects. A streamlined planning process is needed to provides clarity to developers on programme and outcome much earlier.’

Satyen Joshi of Chest Properties said: ‘The changes proposed come at a time when the focus of current building regulations has been expanding to deliver zero carbon homes by 2016 and will do little to influence large scale new development across the country. While there may be mileage in streamlining current regulations to expedite building, the outcome of the Spring 2013 review may bring another layer of complexity into what is already a challenging environment for property developers.
‘The threat of seeing even more banal ubiquitous ‘shoe boxes’ spreading across UK has little to do with building regulations. It’s got more to do with the standards set by volume housebuilders who in turn are unwilling to challenge the design aspirations of a population that is, in the main, obsessed with pastiche.’

David Bownass, UK Sustainability director at WSP said: ‘The government seems to have made the misplaced assumption that building regulations represent red tape.

The government has made the misplaced assumption that building regulations represent red tape

The majority actually serve to ensure a safe, warm, durable home for the general public who will invest a significant part of their working life paying them off. Having already watered down the zero carbon homes regulations and the future Part L 2013 carbon emissions targets for domestic buildings earlier this year, the public could be forgiven for wondering whether this is really the ‘greenest government ever’.’

David Grube of David Grube Architect (on linkedin) said: ‘This is a good move. The Labour Party put far too many rules and regulations in place at a time when they already knew we were going into recession. An example being the cost of the Assessor for the Code for Sustainable Homes. I have a client arguing directly with the planners saying ‘Why should I have to pay for an Approved Assessor for the Code for Sustainable Homes when I don’t even know if I will get planning permission for the site.’
‘The Code for Sustainable Homes could be incorporated within the Building Regulations. Similarly with the Approved Energy Assessment… few clients are prepared to pay for a assessor. This is all work we as architects should be able to do, without the need for the involvement of others.’

Chris Williamson of Weston Williamson said: ‘The building regulations can be complex and confusing and the emphasis on any changes should be on the use of plain English and removing ambiguity whilst ensuring excellence.’

Andy von Bradsky, PRP chair, said: ‘The Challenge Panel has been set up to comment upon and challenge the work undertaken by the Housing Technical Standards Review Panel as it seeks to consolidate the current system of overlapping, conflicting and contradictory regulation and standards. The Challenge Panel is committed to rationalising the current bureaucracies of compliance into a simple standard for housing. However we believe the standard should uphold or improve the quality of housing and it will contest approaches and proposals which undermine the delivery of high quality places, buildings and living conditions. We intend to contest those that wish to maintain the status quo and those that seek to undermine quality and will keep all concerned, including Government, on their toes in a challenging and rational way, representing the best interests of the industry.’

Dominic J Eaton, director at Stride Treglown, said: ‘I am very concerned over the proposals to “significantly” cut back “complex and confusing” building regulations in a bid to kick start development. I have never been concerned over building regulations being a hurdle to development. They act as an essential back stop to ensure that buildings are being built safely and to current standards.

‘I have also experienced liaising with building control and the fire officer over complex issues involving the design proposals and the impact on the fire engineering and means of escape strategy.  This involved a very rigorous and detailed analysis of our proposals and a simulated smoke study. After a very detailed analysis we agreed a way forward that had been tried, tested and more importantly, approved. Buildings are becoming very sophisticated and with constantly changing and evolving regulations. This needs monitoring and testing. 

‘I would feel slightly nervous and exposed if there was a user friendly version of the building regulations. It’s not supposed to be easy or fast track. Again, I would reiterate, with regards kick starting development, my concern has always been associated with the planning process. That’s a real unknown quantity. The application for building regulation approval,and testing the safety and compliance of our proposals is a key part of what we must do as a minimum requirement. 

‘Safety has to be a number one consideration, and there is no short cut to achieving this.’

 

Join thelinkedin debate here.

Readers' comments (1)

  • As has been hinted, we need to remeber that the building regualionsystem works far better than planning. I put this down to the relative involvement of politicians who add considerable uncertainty.

    Lets apply the former's approach with councillors only involved in setting the rules and employees deciding whether a particular scheme complies in all cases.

    Unsuitable or offensive?

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