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Geoff Wilkinson’s Regs: The construction industry would achieve more if it remained as one Team GB

We can safely say that having differing standards to those in England will not be welcomed in Wales

As we come together to celebrate Britishness for the Olympics, the first stage of breaking up the England and Wales regulation system takes a step forward this month.

Responsibility for setting Building Regulations in Wales transferred to the Welsh Assembly on 31 December 2011. The Assembly promptly announced its desire to overtake England in the zero carbon race. Discounting a hugely ambitious 70 per cent reduction, they settled for 55 per cent, based on 2006 standards in the Approved Documents for England & Wales, whereas DCLG plans a 44 per cent reduction for England.

The Welsh Assembly has now published proposed changes to Part L 2013. The concepts remain the same as the English version, retaining a National Calculation Methodology, but performance benchmarks will differ, so architects will need two more software tools: consultation Standard Assessment Procedure Wales and consultation Simplified Building Energy Model Wales, both now available free on the BRE website, which will allow you to calculate the effects of proposed changes to the Regulations and Approved Document ADL1A and ADL2A, but cannot be used to show compliance with the current Part L or to generate Energy Performance Certificates. The consultation document suggests three options.

1. Low case 25 per cent improvement in new domestic property energy efficiency beyond current Part L standards, 11 per cent improvement in new non-domestic property energy efficiency beyond 2010 standards, tightening of standards for extensions to existing domestic and non-domestic property and removal of consequential improvements area threshold.

2. High case The Assembly’s preferred option. 40 per cent improvement in new domestic property energy efficiency beyond Part L, 20 per cent improvement in new non-domestic property energy efficiency beyond 2010 standards, tightening of standards for existing domestic and non-domestic property extensions and removal of consequential improvements area threshold.

3. Hybrid case 25 per cent improvement in new domestic property energy efficiency beyond current Part L, 20 per cent improvement in new non-domestic property energy efficiency beyond 2010 standards, tightening of existing domestic and non-domestic property extension standards and removal of consequential improvements area threshold.

Interestingly, there is no reference to 2006 and, very roughly, a 44 per cent improvement over 2006 equates to a 25 per cent improvement over 2010, the hybrid case. Also, each option masks significant differences in results for proposals’ individual elements. The overwhelming majority of energy and CO2 savings in each option actually comes from proposed tightening existing property standards. Even more shocking is the admission that the net return for the 25 and 40 per cent improvement in new domestic property energy efficiency is negative, entailing a net cost to taxpayers because existing building regulations already impose relatively high energy standards and further improvements will require significant additional costs for new technology and renewables. The return for a 40 per cent improvement is less negative than for a 25 per cent improvement because PV panels’ cost-effectiveness increases with quantity, assuming sufficient roof space.

The consultation is open until October and I haven’t yet heard UK housebuilders’ views, but it’s safe to say that different standards to those in England will be unwelcome. There is a risk that increased capital costs associated with these and other policies will make Welsh projects less attractive to developers. While I understand the political attraction of devolution, the last thing the industry needs is varying standards across borders. As Team GB’s success in the Olympics proves, more can be achieved by pulling together than by going separate ways.

Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of approved inspectors Wilkinson Construction

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