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.