Building has been urging government to Reform the Regs for months. Now, the campaign has moved up a gear with a summit at our offices. Key players from the industry and ODPM went head to head, and found a surprising consensus on the need to cut red tape.

Building has just achieved a key goal in its campaign to reform the Building Regulations by hosting an industry summit. The summit was attended by Anne Hemming, head of the buildings division at the ODPM, and a cross-section of industry representatives, including product manufacturers, architects, engineers and small builders.

The summit - which produced five key recommendations - could not have happened at a more opportune moment. The row over revisions to Part L neatly encapsulates all that is wrong with the Regs. The industry is furious with the ODPM over what must be the most badly handled implementation of a Building Regulation ever. Critics say that unclear guidance on the energy regulations is threatening to delay projects.

Key players from the industry and ODPM went head to head, and found a surprising consensus on the need to cut red tape.
Key players from the industry and ODPM went head to head, and found a surprising consensus on the need to cut red tape.

Part L was revised two years earlier than he industry expected and the consultation process has been rushed through at breakneck speed. This is a problem for two reasons. First, the final version of Part L is due to be published as it comes into force, giving the industry no time to familiarise itself with the rules. Regulations are usually published months before implementation.

The second problem is that software for calculating a building's energy performance has not been formally approved. The net result is that Part L is set to take effect on 6 April and neither the government nor the industry is ready.

So does Building's summit offer any hope? Remarkably, the answer is a resounding yes.

It was always going to be risky getting a diverse group of people from across construction, each with their own agendas, to come up with proposals for change in a couple of hours. Yet what was striking was the amazing degree of consensus among our group - indeed, people from normally opposing camps who expected to disagree with each other were overheard afterwards saying it was almost worrying how much they agreed on during the summit.

Hemming opened proceedings by outlining the ODPM's position on regulatory reform. The ODPM welcomed the debate and wanted to see if regulations could be implemented in a less piecemeal fashion, and made to work with the department's proposed Code for Sustainable Homes. The ODPM also wanted the industry to be able to better understand regulations so compliance levels improve. After this introduction, the debate got into full swing. Encouragingly, Hemming sat busily scribbling notes all the way through.

Just days after the summit, the ODPM announced some of the content of the Code for Sustainable Homes. This included making Building Regulations the base standard for the code and using it as the basis for the next set of improvements to the regulations. Both these issues were raised at the summit - perhaps a good sign of things to come.

The outcomes from the summit are presented on the previous page. Now it's your turn to tell us what you think …

Building’s Reform the Regs manifesto

1 Introduce new regulations on fixed, known dates

  • It’s easier for the industry
    to accommodate change if regulations are introduced at evenly spaced intervals.
  • A clear, published timetable means the industry, particularly small builders, would be more aware of changes.
  • Publishing performance targets for up to 20 years in advance would enable the industry to prepare each time the targets change. This would make it easier to hit targets. It would help product manufacturers with their long development times and ensure people are trained.

2 Separate compliance method from targets

  • Keeping the way the industry complies with regulations separate from the performance values would simplify change. For example, the main challenge behind getting to grips with the new Part L isn’t the energy performance targets but the energy performance calculation methodology.
  • Updating compliance methods less frequently means industry could cope with more frequent performance target changes where this was desirable.

3 Replace regulations applying to building elements with ones applying to entire building types

  • If each regulation applied to a building type, for example one for homes, another for schools and a third for offices, and so on, it would simplify life for most of the industry as people tend to specialise in specific sectors. For example, housebuilders could refer to just one document containing all the performance targets for a home rather than the current 14.

4 Unify the blizzard of sustainability legislation under one national code

  • It would be much simpler for the industry to work to a single code setting out sustainability targets with a range of progressively tougher bands. Current Building Regulations would form the base standard.
  • It would enable transparent, local variations in planning policy if all planners had to specify local performance levels from the bands in the code. This would still be comprehensible nationally.

5 Introduce new measures to ensure greater compliance

  • Ringfence money for local building control.
  • Make clients responsible for compliance, as the risk of being sued for poor building performance would encourage them to ensure buildings comply.
  • More self-certification and use of approved standard details would take the pressure off building control departments.
  • A national database of deemed-to-satisfy details and model designs would help smaller builders comply with regulations more easily.

Eroll McDonald, principal building control officer, Southwark council

We are particularly affected by the frequency and extent of changes in the legislation, together with the volume of new associated guidance material. This obviously has a major impact on our training requirements. What we would like is the changes in the legislation to be laid out in well-planned packages to a specified timetable that extends into the foreseeable future. It would also be useful if the ODPM reviewed its programme for future changes and become part of the training team to deliver them. In addition, the changes need to be better promoted to all stakeholders in the industry.

John Tebbit, industry affairs director, Construction Products Association

The summit showed there was a lot of agreement. For example, the WWF wants to see zero-carbon housing and a commitment from government to get there. I can’t agree to zero-carbon housing in 2010 because the industry cannot change that quickly. Changing the regulations changes the buildings and that changes the type and mix of materials. It takes five years or more and huge levels of capital investment to get new products on the market, so knowing what the regulations will be 15 to 20 years hence would give huge benefits to industry and means we could agree to zero-carbon housing by 2020.

Peter Caplehorn, technical director, Scott Brownrigg

This was a long overdue opportunity for the industry to have a dialogue with the ODPM. The construction industry is very large but extremely fragmented and needs regulations that contain simple and clear principles, proper notice of changes and the time to implement these if such a large entity is to improve on the current lamentable rate of compliance. A good start would be to get rid of references to third-party documentation except for guidance. It would also help if the regulations contained a selection of working examples to help with compliance and there was a return to the deem-to-satisfy principles rather than the current, overly prescriptive situation.