Green legislation will be pointless if it isn’t enforced. But how best to do it? Traditional council building control or self-certification? Paul Everall And Dave Baker argue the toss …
How important is compliance in making new legislation a success?
Dave Baker Compliance is essential. Many European countries have fantastic legislation, but actual standards are poor because nobody bothers with compliance. There’s no value in introducing new legislation unless it can be enforced.
Paul Everall I agree. Legislation that cannot be enforced should never be introduced. The problem with the code is that it won’t be enforced through Building Regulations. Builders may claim their developments achieve a certain rating, but it remains to be seen how effective it will be.
DB The general view is that if new sustainability standards are subject to planning control, then the industry will be exposed to the whims of 400 planning authorities, resulting in confusion and, inevitably, low levels of compliance.
Which element of recent legislation presents the biggest challenge?
PE The first is Part L. Building Control officers (BCO) don’t have a feel for the carbon rating of a home. They depend entirely on readings by a “black box”. The second is Part P – electrical wiring. There is a lot of unauthorised work being carried out. Electricians work without informing Building Control and we simply don’t have the resources to police this.
DB Part L presents the single biggest challenge. For BCOs it has never been a big part of the job. People may not bother to adhere to Part L. Builders won’t know how, and BCOs have bigger concerns – they need to make sure buildings are safe, stable, secure and healthy. The minor details of Part L hardly rate on the scale.
Sound testing introduced under Part E demonstrated that there is a place in regulations for testing, but that it must be done intelligently. Population samples are taken and intelligence gathered centrally to develop improved solutions. It’s a shame that air-tightness testing for Part L isn’t conducted in the same way. Without central intelligence or information sharing, there will be little compliance.
PE The government will be uncomfortable with this view. It sees Part L as the most important. Sustainability, important as it is, does not present immediate risk to life.
What factors will stop industry complying with new regulations?
PE Lack of knowledge and pressure to cut costs. If builders have paid too much for land, they will look to other ways to cut costs, which could affect quality of build.
DB I disagree. The main problem will be uncertainty. The robust details method shows that builders are willing to invest to achieve certainty. They don’t follow robust details because it’s cheaper than pre-completion testing – they pay the extra for quality materials that provide certainty of compliance and completion.
What is the best way to get the industry to comply with new legislation?
DB The industry needs to work together with building control bodies. All parties should exchange information and training programmes should be established.
PE I agree with the need for education and training and would add two things: one is peer pressure and the other is well publicised enforcement cases. If consumers are convinced a product is greener and better value, demand will stimulate compliance. High-profile prosecutions will also act to deter builders who aren’t complying, as prosecutions of rogue electricians after Part P did.
How much of it needs to be guidance and incentives, and how much the stick?
PE Incentives, such as the Local Authority Building Control quality awards, help to instil pride in work. But enforcement needs to be taken seriously. Currently, the only method of enforcement is prosecution in the magistrate’s court. We need to explore other possibilities such as fixed penalty notices, or the public naming and shaming of builders.
DB There is danger in this approach: BCOs would risk becoming despised figures like parking wardens. Enforcement is important, but it is more beneficial if BCOs are seen to work with builders to achieve a solution, rather than slapping on fines.
How much money is available to ensure new legislation is complied with?
PE None. The government puts no money into Building Control. To perpetuate this problem, many local authorities siphon funds to subsidise other areas.
DB Limited resources mean Building Control bodies have to prioritise what they see as the most important areas of Building Regulations, such as fire and structural stability. As such, the government’s policy to improve environmental credentials of buildings is undermined.
Isn’t the best solution more BCOs as they can offer advice and ensure enforcement?
PE Yes, more officers will result in more effective enforcement of regulations. Best results occur when officers work closely with architects throughout projects, but this has yet to move to areas other than sound insulation. I think the government should consider this.
In the Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme, door and window fitters self-certify their work is okay. Shouldn’t there be more schemes like this to free up Building Control to concentrate on tricky construction elements?
PE The advantage of such schemes is that BCOs are given documentary evidence, so there is less to check on site. However, the proliferation of schemes examining individual aspects of a construction could result lots of documentation, with nobody inspecting overall build. Where elements affect other aspects of construction, this could be extremely dangerous.
DB This is going to come to a head with the code and I think people will lose interest in it. If BCO receive 50-60 checklists, including one stating whether the house has a washing line rather than a dryer, it will become a paper-shuffling exercise and compliance may get worse.
What can be done to ensure future legislation is easy to comply with?
PE Discussion is essential. The latest Part L legislation is a good example of interaction between the government and industry that ensured requirements that couldn’t be implemented weren’t in the code.
DB Timing is important. People need to be prepared for new legislation. The government seems to have defaulted to publishing guidance at the last minute, but this is in nobody’s interest. It’s just not possible to change systems overnight.
What would make the greatest difference in making new legislation a success?
DB I think setting goal-based regulation is the best way. A simple target and a fair lead-in time enables the industry to decide how best to act. Targets like “zero carbon by 2016” are good. If everybody sticks to it, we’ll find the solution.
PE Societal pressure and growing recognition that it’s a problem will make the greatest difference. The media must continue to stress the importance of green technology to stimulate consumer demand. More work must be done on non-energy aspects of sustainability.
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