The Building Regulations have already achieved a great deal, says Andrew Stunell (the man in charge of them) - but now he wants you to tell him how they could do even more
As a long-time advocate of building regulations and what they can do, I’m delighted that my appointment as a minister includes responsibility for them. Indeed, I may have surprised my officials a little when I first met them and told them I felt a bit like a trainspotter when it comes to these regulations. Now I’m relishing the chance to drive the train.
I trained in architecture, and I have had a lifelong passion for ensuring that the design and construction of our buildings delivers benefits to society. While I was in opposition I was fortunate enough to be able to steer through parliament what became the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004; I wanted our regulations to be as effective as they could be in delivering the safe and sustainable buildings that we need.
Building regulations have achieved a great deal over the years. They have contributed to a fall of more than 50% in the number of fire deaths in the home since 1981. On energy efficiency, current new homes standards should already deliver savings of 70% compared with 1990. Our next steps on the road to zero carbon - which I can confirm will come into force on 1 October this year - will deliver a further improvement of 25% on today’s standards.
On its own, though, this is not enough - our commitments under the Climate Change Act and the compelling scientific evidence about the effects of climate change on our planet mean we must do more. That’s why we have to deliver on the prime minister’s commitment to make this the greenest government ever.
To do that, we need to act across government. On new homes, we will have to maintain the momentum to deliver zero-carbon homes from 2016 and non-domestic buildings from 2019. The announcement by my colleague Grant Shapps last week showed how we are driving forward policy on zero carbon.
In many ways, of course, the real challenge lies in tackling the performance of the existing building stock, which is responsible for about 45% of all UK carbon emissions. Building regulations have a crucial role to play here, too. They can help to improve, for example, the performance of individual components when they are replaced, as we have already done for boilers and windows.
I want us urgently to consider how we could use the Building Regulations to achieve more.
We are acting across government to achieve still more, more quickly. My colleague, Chris Huhne, has already set out how the Energy Security and Green Economy Bill will include provisions on a green deal for households. This will encourage home improvements such as insulation and lagging, paid for by savings from energy bills.
Finally, an area that I am determined not to overlook is that of compliance with what is actually required. I have heard too many people complain about this to believe more cannot be done - we have to make sure that savings are really delivered and that our achievements are real and not theoretical.
We should remember that all of this is important not just to deliver on our climate change commitments, but also to help people to heat their homes cost effectively.
The Building Regulations are a powerful tool, but as with all powerful tools, they need to be managed and maintained carefully. This government is committed to reducing regulation, including a one-in, one-out approach to managing costs. I want to ensure that the Building Regulations are proportionate and remain fit for purpose by responding appropriately to changes in technology, science, build practices and construction techniques.
This is where you come in. I want to hear your views on how the Regulations can be improved, added to, or slimmed down. I would also like suggestions as to how we can deliver even better levels of compliance in the future. I am asking you to send me your ideas at building.regulations@communities.
gsi.gov.uk by the end of August. We will take these ideas, and those from the Cabinet Office’s Your Freedom and my own Cut Red Tape exercises, into discussions with external partners and the Building Regulations Advisory Committee in the autumn. This will help us to decide our priorities for improving the Building Regulations with a plan to consult fully in late 2011 on a set of detailed proposals for change in 2013.
I hope that this will be the start of a long and fruitful dialogue and I would encourage you to submit your ideas.
Andrew Stunell is a Lib Dem MP and communities minister