News that the government is to overhaul Building Regulations has been greeted with predictable cynicism from red-tape-weary architects.
Building-control minister Angela Smith set out a package of options for modernising the system, including greater powers for local authorities to tackle persistent offenders and simpler customer-focused guidance. Proper resourcing of building-control bodies and an end to piecemeal reform are also being mooted.
The proposals, in a new policy paper 'The Future of Building Control', address a host of shortcomings with current regulations, not least ineffective compliance and enforcement and their overall complexity.
A three-month consultation period will now follow, giving architects a chance to have their say on the modernisation programme.
Smith says: 'I invite all parties to get involved in the debate and offer any other suggestions that will contribute to making a building-control system -t for the future.'
But her words have already been tarnished by architects still grappling with the changes to Part L which became law last year. Faheem Aftab, director at A-Cube, says: 'Several months on, there still appears to be confusion on how to interpret and implement the legislation.'
A central concern is the government's apparent lack of transparency in drawing up the modernisation policy. Although consultation with key players took place, small-practice architects suspect these 'conversations' may have taken place exclusively in the corridors of power.
Aftab says: '[They] therefore reect the ambitions of corporates rather than the concerns of the smaller players who make up the majority of building-control applications.'
He adds: 'I am concerned that a new universal approach may become top-heavy and create a layer of extra work that is too sophisticated for smaller-scale projects. I fear a greater onus will be placed on designers without taking into account the extra work that they do, or protecting them and questioning the role or necessity of building-control officers.'
No one disputes that modernisation is long overdue, but most critics say the entire system needs to be joined up.
Greg Lomas, of Foster Lomas, says local authorities all seem to apply the regulations in a different way.
Lomas says there are an increasing number of consultants in the world of building regulations, the knockon effect of which is that costs are being passed on to clients.
'Any further changes to the regulations should be mindful of this, ' he warns.
Adding his own recommendations to the modernisation debate, Lomas suggests a Part R for recycling.
He says: 'The stick of increasing landfill taxes is only going to go so far in encouraging recycling on building sites, and there are still huge amounts of waste.'
Stuart Barlow, director of sustainability and technology at Reid Architecture, asks whether health and safety should be incorporated into the building-control mechanism.
He also asks: 'How effective will this consultation process be?
Will the contractors' lobby be louder than the architects'?'
Naturally, Smith defends the programme. In a statement, the minister says: 'We are determined to have a system that is ef-cient in its purpose to deliver buildings which are safe, healthy, accessible and sustainable.'
Clearly, regulations need demystifying and tightening, especially for small-scale developments where compliance is an issue. But in the wake of Part L, con-dence in the government's ability to deliver universal reform appears to be uniformly low.
THE EXISTING BUILDING-CONTROL SYSTEM Part A: structure Part B: -re safety Part C: site preparation, resistance to contaminates and moisture Part D: toxic substances Part E: resistance to the passage of sound Part F: ventilation Part G: hygiene Part H: drainage and waste disposal Part J: combustion appliances and fuel storage systems Part K: protection from falling collision and impact Part L1: conservation of fuel and power in dwellings Part L2: conservation of fuel and power in non-dwellings Part M: access to and use of buildings Part N: glazing Part P: electrical safety, dwellings
'There is a clear case for reform of the building-control system' Angela Smith, Minister for Building Regulations
'The present system of building regulation has served us well, but more complex construction techniques and the need to achieve greater energy ef-ciency mean we need to take a hard look at improving and simplifying the technical guidance and setting milestones for future step changes' Michael Finn, chairman, Building Regulations Advisory Committee
'A clear acknowledgement of the realworld situation is needed, with a little more realism and a recognition that, especially in existing buildings, the ideal cannot always be achieved' Greg Lomas, director, Foster Lomas
'What concerns me is the move from statutory standards to risk-based standards. If we go down the competent persons route there could be pressure put on people to certify things which are not up to scratch' Stuart Barlow, director of sustainability and technology, Reid Architecture
'The example set by Part L appears to add another layer of bureaucracy, without de-ning how to get to the end goal of a scheme that complies, or taking into account how it affects the people who must execute the changes' Faheem Aftab, director, A-Cube