Developing a set of national housing standards outside of the Building Regulations would cause confusion

Paul Everall

For many years I have believed in a fairly simple distinction: planning (or development control) exists to decide on suitable locations for buildings and ensure their aesthetic features are environmentally acceptable; and all the technical requirements needed for buildings should be covered in Building Regulations.

In recent years I have been concerned about the growing tendency of local authorities to try and impose additional requirements over and above those in the Building Regulations through the planning system, in particular in relation to energy. Following the report produced by Sir John Harman and his team, I therefore welcomed the decision of the government to set up a review of all the standards being applied to new housing – although I was concerned when I saw the terms of reference referred to “ a radical and fundamental review of the Building Regulations”, the last thing I thought we needed in the economic circumstances we were in last year. I was also intrigued by the setting up a four-person “Challenge Panel”, a concept I had not come across before.

And now the review has been published, including the views of the panel, and a consultation paper issued. In the event I need not have been so concerned, because both the panel and the individual working groups have come down firmly in favour of the Building Regulations being the core repository of technical standards for the construction industry.

Of course, I welcome that. The working groups have also done excellent work too in reviewing all the existing standards on particular issues, and making recommendations as to what might be needed in future. In the field of sustainability, these include not only energy and water efficiency, but also indoor air quality, condensation, air tightness, overheating, daylighting and sunlight. There is much detail here to be studied before the end of the consultation period.

My biggest initial concern from the consultation paper is how the recommendations might be implemented.

Three options are set out: integration of the standards into building regulations; developing separately a national set of housing standards, which could be adopted by councils in their local plans and implemented through conditions attached to a planning permission; and a hybrid whereby the second is a stepping stone to the first.

I am worried that developing a set of national housing standards outside the Building Regulations would lead to much confusion. In addition, the report recognises that the technical expertise in local authorities tends to rest in building control departments, and surely it makes sense for them to retain responsibility for these issues within councils. I am sure that LABC will be making that point in response to the consultation.

Paul Everall is chief executive of LABC