At the end of next year, the Welsh government will be responsible for building regulations in the principality - and it’s determined to make them as tough as possible

As of 31 December 2011 the Welsh Assembly Government will be responsible for the creation and enforcement of building regulations in Wales. It is not yet clear how different Welsh regulations will be from their English counterparts but one thing is sure - everyone building on the Welsh side of the border needs to keep abreast of developments.

In 2007 the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) published an initiative called OneWales which set out the intentions for Wales’ future across the board. Sustainable living and development are central to the WAG’s policies, and part of its stated vision is that there will be an annual 3% reduction of carbon emissions by 2011. Recognising that buildings are responsible for up to 40% of all carbon emissions in the UK, the WAG’s ultimate aim is that “all new buildings are constructed to the highest standards of energy and water efficiency and are zero carbon”.

The WAG began taking steps toward the creation of more environment-friendly buildings in May 2008, when it ordered that all new housing in Wales must be built to the Code for Sustainable Homes level three, and all new non-domestic buildings funded by the WAG must qualify for the “excellent” standard set by BREEAM.

To help it pursue its ultimate goal of carbon neutral buildings, in March 2009 the Zero Carbon Hub Wales was established. This is a coalition of drawn from the building industry, housing and voluntary sectors who are committed to helping the WAG devise ways to achieve its carbon reduction targets.

However, the WAG felt that it needed more if it was to really enforce zero carbon new builds in Wales as soon possible. Accordingly it sought to have devolved from central government the power to make its own building regulations. This transfer of power was approved in November 2009.

Welsh environment minister, Jane Davidson, is quoted as saying: “We can set the agenda for new buildings, making them more energy efficient and sustainable. This will help homeowners and tenants across Wales to keep their energy costs down and also contribute towards our target of reducing emissions by 3% a year from 2011, enabling an 80% reduction by 2050”.

The WAG is in the process of drafting the new regulations which will supersede the Building Regulations 2000 for projects in Wales. The new regulations, which are likely to be in force in 2013, will be aligned with BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes and may not initially demand zero carbon new-builds but will aim drastically to limit carbon emissions.

It has already been indicated that they will focus on contractors improving and making greater use of:

  • fabric performance
  • natural ventilation
  • heat recovery
  • renewable energy generation
  • energy-efficient lighting.

There have been considerable concerns raised in regard to the regulations, notably that the extra cost of abiding by the carbon reducing requirements could deter contractors from building in Wales. Some feel that the this extra cost could also increase the price of new-build housing in a region with a struggling housing market.

However, the new regulations will also produce significant benefits, such as a decrease in running costs and the propulsion of Wales to the forefront of sustainable construction, setting a new standard for “green” buildings. It may also attract environment-conscious companies to Wales due to availability of “green” offices and, of course, significantly reduce carbon emissions.

Such is the WAG’s determination to enforce low carbon buildings that it has been hinted that it will impose more stringent penalties on those contractors that fall foul of the Welsh regulations. The current penalty for breach is a maximum £5,000 fine and a £50-a-day penalty until the breach is rectified.

As Welsh law is entirely separate from the laws passed in Whitehall, it is vital that contractors are aware of the differences between the regulations in England and
in Wales. Ignorance of the law really won’t pay.

The next year will be an exciting and challenging one for the construction industry in Wales. As long as contractors make sure that they understand their responsibilities under the new regulations, then there should be no need to panic.

Jeremy Williams is a partner in the construction team at M&A Solicitors. For more information on the Welsh Building Regulations, contact Jeremy on 029-2067 4469 or at