Government insists drive to ‘rationalise’ regulations will not impact on environmental standards

Heat sensitive house picture

The government’s review of housebuilding standards and Building Regulations will not weaken commitments to sustainability, the minister in charge of the shake-up has said.

The terms of reference of the review, unveiled by communities minister Don Foster last week, state that it aims to “significantly rationalise the untenable forest of codes rules, regulations and guidance that add unnecessary cost and complexity to the housebuilding process”.

The review will include the Code for Sustainable Homes as well as other key environmental “regimes”, such as the requirements for Energy Performance Certificates and sustainable drainage, which the terms of reference identified as placing “burdens on businesses during the housebuilding process”.

It will consider controversial changes to Part L, called consequential improvements, that require homeowners to make energy-efficiency improvements to their homes, through the Green Deal, when carrying out other improvements. The government has yet to publish its long-awaited response to the consultation on the changes, after the prime minister’s office scotched the plan when it was dubbed a “conservatory tax” by some parts of the media.

The inclusion of key sustainability requirements within the review has prompted fears that it will lead to poorer quality homes and lower environmental standards. But Foster said essential safety and accessibility protections would remain untouched and that homes would “always need to be built to high sustainability and quality standards”.

Paul King, UK Green Building Council chief executive, said he welcomed Foster’s commitment to sustainability, but he said the “considerable uncertainty” created by the review was “more likely to slow down housing delivery than speed it up”.

He said: “While we do believe that there is room for improvement in terms of rationalising the current range of voluntary standards, this must not be at the expense of delivering high quality, sustainable homes fit for the future.”

A Home Builders Federation spokesperson said some of the initial reaction to the review had been “hysterical”.

“This is going to be a sensible process that is all about cutting out duplication and simplifying the plethora of regulations that have built up over the years,” he said.

The review will comprise:

  • An Independent Challenge Panel which will consider Building Regulations and housing standards and what potential there is for more efficiency
  • A housing standards review group - led by the Department for Communities & Local Government and comprising 16 industry groups – which will consider how local and national standards can be streamlined
  • Both groups are expected to report by April 2013