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Let's abolish Building Regs

The Tories’ plans would free UK construction from its box-ticking culture, says Kieran Long

So, the Tories seem to have an idea at last. Abolishing Building Regulations might be a headline-grabbing promise, but it could just make sense. It’s the first recognition we’ve had that the technical environment for the construction industry is not working and has become too onerous and bureaucratic. It also could be a clue that the Tories have recognised the importance, in a new, low-carbon world, of integrating planning and building control.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is the idea that a new planning bill, ‘early in the first Parliament’ of a new Tory government, according to MP John Gummer, might bring building control and the planning system closer together.

This is essential if we are going to achieve the zero-carbon target set by government, and could have other positive ramifications. There has been criticism of the Code for Sustainable Homes because of its potential to hold up planning permissions pending building control approval. It is clear that the pressing need for the integration of power and infrastructure with the detail of buildings is a good motivating factor.

The Code for Sustainable Homes, as I have written here before, is an example of a particularly British way of doing things that does not encourage innovation and makes sustainability a box-ticking exercise. Much better would be the approach used in Germany and Scandinavia, where airtightness and insulation are the focus, and energy generation and water conservation are handled at a district or even city-wide scale. This is, as the spirit of Building Regulations today is supposed to be, a genuine case of setting broad principles and allowing designers to decide how they fulfil them.

This approach, allowing Building Regs to function as standards rather than prescriptions, could also lead to a tempering of the consultant culture that reins in construction. Architects from overseas are shocked at how many consultants are involved in design and planning in the UK. Accountability under New Labour has become less about devolving responsibility to experts, more about making them jump through hoops. Any hint from a political party that this could be reduced must be welcomed.

kieran.long@emap.com

Readers' comments (3)

  • this wont work.

    If anything i would have to say that the planning system requires the biggest shake up, as its far too complicated and full of red tape. Building regs in my opinion is the easier and more straight forward of the two. Build it right, to the guidelines and i you dont have a problem. Whilst planners use zero common sense and the policy documents are far too complicated and very badly worded.

    A good designer will always intergrate building regs standards into a design at the planning stage, as much as possible.

    Lets start with the real problem (planning) and then move onto building regs.

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  • I agree totally with the above comment, I have been in situations where two different planning officers have had differing opinions on similar extensions at different ends of the same (short) street. Simplify planning 1st

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  • It is interesting that the current regulations, introduced by the last conservative administration, precisely to achieve what a future administration is intending is perceived in this way.

    The Regulation themselves include little in the way of prescriptive requirements, those that are included are there to persuade the industry to move toward the sustainability issues stated as an aim. All designers carrying out their professional obligations competently are well aware that the advice given in the supporting Approved Documents, is just that, advice.

    The minimum standards (not good standards) required by the current regulations can be achieved by innovative individuals or practices in any way that can be shown to have a sound technical providence.

    At a time when self regulation has been shown to be so ineffective in the two of the pillars of our commercial lives, finance and democratic representation, it has to be of concern to any competent practitioner that the legislative framework protecting the minimum standards for health, safety and sustainability might be exposed to the same abuse by those that are less capable.

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