Open mike — People who run small businesses are no dummies, but even they are bamboozled by our Building Regulations and their endless revisions. Here’s how to make life a bit simpler…

It’s 4:35am. Wake up in a cold sweat. Drag myself out of bed and over to the PC. Call up the DCLG website to see whether the Building Regulations have changed …

With 10 Approved Documents revised in the past three years and with every single one of them having been updated since 2000, this is a recurring nightmare for hundreds of thousands of small builders up and down the country. When it comes to changes to Building Regulations, the new requirements themselves are not always the issue. Standards need to be tightened, safety improved, and times move on. The industry recognises this and most people want to comply. Things get a great deal harder, however, when the regulations keep shifting every year or when you realise that a university degree is now a prerequisite for making sense of it all.

What ever happened to the simplicity of the original Approved Documents?

Builders are not alone in their struggle to keep pace with changing requirements. During a recent project I received two very different opinions on compliance from two building control officers working in the same department.

A couple of months ago, Building launched its Reform the Regs campaign, which made a number of good recommendations. As a small builder speaking on behalf of many of my colleagues, we hope the government will push this agenda. Some in the industry have called for a moratorium on regulations to give us a breathing space. I like this idea but it may be a tad ambitious, and I am not sure that it would address the underlying problems of complexity and pace of change. What the industry really needs is a fundamental change in approach to how Building Regulations are changed and introduced.

On one project I received two very different opinions on compliance from two building control officers in the same department

Central to this is that the industry should be allowed to participate more closely in the revision process. Regular stakeholder meetings would allow the government to tap into the industry’s practical experience and to help it get the revisions right every time. Similarly, with so many individuals left confused by the increasing complexity of the regulations, it makes sense for the ultimate end-users of the regulations to be more closely involved in formulating them, as well as the associated guidance.

Equally important is the timing of revisions. Is there any reason why changes to Approved Documents are not drawn together and then introduced on dates that are well-announced in advance and with sufficient intervals in between? One set of revisions this year, for example, the next set in 2009, followed by the next batch in 2012, and so on.

These “milestones” would enable the industry – builders, manufacturers, architects, building control officers and others – to count on the regulations staying as they are for a few years at a time, to plan ahead, and help ensure that their objectives are met. The milestones could be agreed by consensus and would take into account wider legislative change affecting the industry,

such as changes to the industry’s tax scheme, or new health and safety or employment regulations. The industry, and small businesses in particular, have struggled to cope with the plethora of uncoordinated regulations in the last few years.

As the standards that underpin our built environment, the Building Regulations are a great social responsibility. As such, they should be afforded the attention they deserve. The government does not need to do this alone as the industry is willing to bear a part of that burden. I, for one, stand ready to help.