‘Past working groups have consistently recommended that the system be simplified’
The government has announced yet another review of Building Regulations, a move the press has labelled a ‘Bonfire of the Regulations’. Twitter has been awash with people condemning the government for the move, concerned that this would lead to the sort of relaxed standards that saw nine people die and 70 injured when a shopping mall collapsed in Ghana last week.
Communities minister Don Foster was quick to confirm essential health and safety elements of the regulations will not be touched, but that he was intent on cutting ‘the current array of housing standards used in different parts of the country’, describing it as ‘counter-productive and confusing to local residents, councillors and developers’.
This paints the picture that there could be a two-tier system on the way, with approved documents just for housing. This of course already exists in Part B and Part L, which have separate housing standards. I think the government is correct on this one. Past working groups have consistently recommended that the system be simplified. I think there would be strong support for a single set of Approved Documents for ‘minor works’, for example domestic dwellings of no more than three storeys.
But I would like to see the review go further. Here is my top 10 of regulations that could be put on the bonfire:
1 Local Acts: Scrapping these is long overdue. There is no justification in requiring sprinklers in an office in an inner London borough, such as Hackney, but not in an outer London borough, such as Waltham Forest.
2 Code for Sustainable Homes: CSH is too often applied through planning consents by planners with no understanding of how buildings are constructed, and could be withdrawn. We already have some key CSH requirements within the regs, such as water use. Those needed should be subsumed, those that don’t add to health, safety, access or energy use, should be discarded.
3 BREEAM: Not only would I remove CSH, but break the link between planning and energy use, and withdraw BREEAM and all the other energy codes and models used by planners. Only a single standard (for example Part L) is needed, and compliance methods should be simplified, based on a fabric first approach to reflect Passivhaus standards adopted on the Continent.
4 Warranty Link Rule: This prevents competition in the housing market by requiring a registered warranty with any new-build house. This means houses sold with an architect’s certificate cannot be signed off by approved inspectors and must go through the Local Authority Building Control system.
5 Water use calculations: The same effect could be achieved by local water metering of appliances in new buildings to show the actual cost to the consumer.
6 Approved Document D: An entire document devoted to preventing toxic fumes from urea formaldehyde. I can’t remember the last time I saw UF in use, and it certainly doesn’t warrant a regulation of its own.
7 Construction Design and Management regulations: These could be incorporated within the Building Regulations and overseen by a single body, rather than requiring separate notification as is currently the case.
8 The Scottish System: There is no choice of service provider in the Scottish system. Introducing licensed approved inspectors would mean builders in Scotland would have a choice of service provider.
9 Extend self-certification: Competent plumbers, electricians and so on can already self-certify (under Part P). This could be extended to other trades, or even allow architects to self-certify extensions. This was what was first envisioned by Michael Heseltine in the 1980s and why individual and corporate grades of approved inspector were created.
10 Secure by Design: Another standard that should simply be absorbed into the main Building Regulations.
Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of approved inspectors Wilkinson Construction
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The regs: Geoff Wilkinson pours fuel on the bonfire of the regs, saying the government review doesn’t go far enough