Geoff Wilkinson explains how Building Regulations are being revised for the 21st century
More changes are afoot in the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) as the government looks to reduce the regulatory burden. In a statement to parliament before Christmas, Communities Minister Andrew Stunell announced the findings of his review and reaffirmed the commitment to revising Building Regulations on the conservation of fuel and power in 2013.
The minister also reiterated the government’s determination to manage this process through a one-in, one-out approach to regulation, ensuring that the cost of any new regulations is offset by regulatory savings of at least the same value.
Stunell said: ‘At the end of July I asked the building industry to tell me their ideas about what in the Building Regulations and associated processes needed to be improved or extended, where we might reduce the regulatory burdens and how we might deliver even better levels of compliance. Today, I’m publishing the findings of that process. In the coming year, I plan to look at how we ensure our regulations are as effective as they can be in delivering safe and sustainable buildings.’
The success of this process is dependent on consultation with those at the frontline of the construction industry, building the homes and buildings that this country needs. That’s why for me this is just the start of the process as their contribution has informed my programme of work for the next year, and I want to work with them further to ensure building regulations are fit for the 21st century.
The full report can be viewed at www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/buildingregsnextsteps, but below are the highlights.
Part A: Structure There are no plans for the wholesale revision of Part A but CLG will look at how Part A and the Approved Document might be updated, with references reflecting the standards based on Eurocodes. Within the overall context of removing the burden of compliance CLG will also look to introduce a scheme of third-party certification (similar to the scheme in place in Scotland) as an alternative to the need for Building Control applications and checks.
Part B: Fire Safety CLG are dismissing the idea of extending the requirements to make sprinklers mandatory.
Despite a number of recent fires in timber-framed construction, CLG consider that these relate to risks during the construction phase, which is not within the scope of the Building Regulations, so there will be no changes.
The issue of equality for people with disabilities in the case of fire was raised and it was suggested that the existing provision was unacceptable as it permitted an approach that could leave a person with a disability in a building (albeit within a safe refuge) in the event of a fire. The department has said that it does not have evidence that the approach is, in practice, any less safe, but will keep the issue under review.
Part C: Site preparation and resistance to contaminantsCLG have expressed concern over provisions relating to radon gas. They will examine options for addressing the health risks from radon and the costs and benefits.
Part G: Sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiencyThe department received representations that the guidance on toilet provision discriminates against women. There is no factual evidence to support this, so a study is to be commissioned.
Part L: Conservation of fuel and powerThe plans for part L have been clearly spelled out in the past and the report reinforces plans for the next phase to be introduced in April 2013. Notwithstanding, the CLG recognised issues with the complexity of guidance, some of which was considered to be beyond the understanding of many. It was suggested that a key consequence of this complexity was that compliance suffered as people didn’t know what was required. CLG will review this complexity and hope to address the issue through simplified guidance.
Part M: Access to and use of buildings By far the biggest area of response (600+) related to Changing Places and we can expect these to form part of the next Part M when it’s published in 2013. There was also support for the Building Regulations being used to deliver standards for new housing that might more widely support independent living in older age, with specific reference to inclusion of Lifetime Homes Standards in the Regs. Rationalisation of Parts M, K and N and resolution of conflicts between them are a possibility.
Part P: Electrical safety This requirement was criticised for penalising those who want to comply, whilst doing nothing to improve compliance amongst those who wish to avoid the rules. The requirement for Part P certification is therefore to be reviewed.