Paul Everall, the DETR's head of Building Regulations, explains why and how the government reviews its rules
I am delighted that Building has published this supplement on the Regulations – a topic that is vitally important but perhaps not widely enough understood, even by construction professionals.

Under section 1 of the Building Act 1984, Building Regulations can be made in England and Wales for the purposes of securing the health, safety, welfare and convenience of people in or around buildings; to further the conservation of fuel and power; and to prevent waste, undue consumption, misuse or contamination of water. Since the Building Regulations were consolidated in 1991, a series of amendments have been made to them and they have now been consolidated again in the Building Regulations 2000, which came into force on 1 January this year. Similar but separate regulatory systems exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The requirements imposed by the Regulations, and their limits of application, are set out in schedule 1 to the 2000 Regulations. Since 1985, the requirements themselves have been expressed in functional terms ("reasonable provision shall be made for …") and these have been supported by Approved Documents (that is, documents approved by ministers) providing guidance on how the requirements can be met.

Responsibility for complying with the Regulations rests with builders and developers. To ensure that they do comply, they must either notify local authorities of their plans or select a private sector approved inspector who will work with them to achieve compliance. Checking compliance can involve both the approval of plans and a number of site visits by inspectors throughout the construction process.

This supplement describes just how much change has taken place in the past three years, and how much is still under way. But why do ministers decide to change the Regulations (or at least the Approved Documents) so often? There are a number of reasons:

  • As part of wider government initiatives; for example, strengthening Part L as a contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, as required under the climate change strategy
  • As a response to events such as the flooding that has occurred in England over the past six months
  • After representations from pressure groups and other bodies; for example, disabled rights bodies persuaded ministers to extend Part M to cover dwellings
  • As a result of a greater appreciation of risks to health and safety in particular circumstances. This was the case with the recent change in Part B to require sprinklers in large single-storey retail buildings
  • Following research into the effectiveness of the current Regulations; for example, the proposals in Part E to remedy defects in the current provisions for sound insulation
  • To reflect the change from British to European standards
  • To respond to weaknesses and ambiguities in the Approved Documents.
However, proposals for change are not put forward lightly. The full impact of the changes has to be assessed, and the Cabinet Office's Regulatory Impact Unit and the Department for Trade and Industry's Small Business Service have to be consulted to ensure that they do not consider undue burdens are being imposed.

A draft regulatory impact assessment has to be prepared to accompany the consultation package, and when new Regulations are made, ministers have to sign the revised RIA. These procedures reflect a long history of government scrutiny of all regulatory systems, including the Building Regulations.

I hope you find this supplement interesting. I am sure you'll find it useful.