Over-regulation and vested interests could be banished to the past if plans for a review panel of experts and consumer labelling get the go-ahead, says Ben Derbyshire


Successive governments unfailingly promise to free us from the Gordian knot of red tape. The coalition has gone further than most, setting up the “red tape challenge” under Oliver Letwin. After a tough year trawling for superfluous legislation, it appears the initiative has so far succeeded in scrapping less than 100 regulations, almost all of which are anachronistic wartime provisions designed to prevent trading with the enemy.

However, help may be at hand in May when Letwin and his deregulation “Star Chamber” meet to review consultation responses arising from the housing and construction theme, which closed in February.

Among submissions from the industry, which is surely ripe for reform, is one from Shelagh Grant of the Housing Forum suggesting that in return for one new piece of legislation, no less than 16 bureaucracies of compliance could be reduced to just four, with many standards dispensed with altogether.

Diversity should be complemented by a revolution in labelling so that consumers are aware of what they are buying at the point they make a choice

The Housing Forum report suggests deregulation will yield much-needed benefits to ease the housing crisis: directly, in terms of reduced costs of regulatory bureaucracy and reduced costs in the product; and indirectly, by reducing uncertainty in the development process. The report proposes measures to stimulate innovation, and improve diversity by creating the opportunity for consumer pull in the market.

Diversity and choice for customers in the marketplace should be complemented by a revolution in product labelling so that consumers are properly aware of what
they are buying at the point at which they are making a choice - wherever homes are advertised.

This would permit complete de-regulation of a swathe of standards that are properly a matter for the individual choice of consumers, including the amount of space they wish to pay for.

A start can be made by advertising all new and second-hand homes for sale or rent with a clear statement of size and energy performance - measures which are required in any case by European law to be part of the particulars. An EU directive will shortly require the UK to pass legislation to display EPCs wherever homes are advertised.

The Coalition could so easily make a virtue of this necessity.

The unintended consequence of over-regulation has been counterproductive, distorting the priority for allocation of internal space, increasing costs and reducing supply.

The Housing Forum report suggests a review panel of industry experts chaired by a respected independent agency mandated to advise on the regulatory framework, challenge vested interests and disaggregate guidance notes into a simplified structure incorporating guidance and non-statutory requirements.

According to the forum, much regulation and guidance could be superseded, their content either having been subsumed or deregulated completely, to be replaced by consumer labelling.

They include Lifetime Homes, the Code for Sustainable Homes, Secured by Design, Building for Life, CDM regulations, rights of light legislation, London building acts and
the Mayor of London Housing Design Standards.

The proposal relies on mutual exclusivity between agencies, which means the Housing Forum warns that local planning authorities should be cautioned against applying local planning policies and standards covering issues of technical compliance which are properly the domain of Building Regulations.

The full recommendations, Innovation and Regulation in Housing Construction, can be seen at housingforum.org.uk and were aired at the forum’s annual conference. My co-author Andy von Bradsky and I will be seeking reaction to the report from forum members from across the industry.

Ben Derbyshire is managing director of HTA