Today, Building launches a campaign to persuade the government to rethink the way it does regulation. Over the next few weeks we explain what has gone wrong, how it is hampering the industry and how we believe it can be fixed. We hope that you’ll tell us your stories, and lend us your support.
1. A moratorium. No more new regulations until the ones we have now are sorted out
2. A regulation summit to allow the industry to inform government thinking on change
3. A champion to co-ordinate and streamline the regulations and codes affecting construction
The regulatory system in this country is out of control. We have a constant stream of new regulations, amended regulations, regulations from the ODPM, from Europe, from planners, regulations that are inconsistent with other regulations, regulations that are incomplete, regulations that are impossible to comply with. Individually, many of these rules are well meaning. Collectively, they are gradually bringing the whole system into disrepute, and the end result will be less compliance, not more.
On average a new building regulation appears every four months, and European directives and technical standards are pouring out like water from a burst pipe. Professionals find it difficult to keep abreast of developments in their own specialities; practitioners often don’t have the resources to pay for a continual training, and building control does not have enough resources to enforce them.
We are suffering in two ways – from the downturn in the housing market and the impending disaster of Part L
The first thing that should happen is a moratorium on regulations so that industry can comply with what it has already got. It will, for example, give it time to understand the energy calculation methods to be used in Part L. When the output resumes, the government should deliver rules according to a timetable that gives the industry the time it needs to absorb them.
As the amount of red tape increases, so does the likelihood of conflict with existing rules. There have been discrepancies between regulations and British Standards, and the ODPM has the monstrous task of ensuring that guidance on ventilation and airtightness do not clash. The trend for councils to include sustainability targets for building in their local plans is inviting yet more conflict. The government therefore needs to appoint a champion to ensure that rules are co-ordinated and streamlined.
Uncertainty and complexity
The delay in the release of final calculation tools and reference documents for Part L has added to the nightmare. The uncertainty means that even experienced consultants do not yet know how to design buildings that will comply with Part L. There is still no indication what the delayed Code for Sustainable Buildings will contain, even though it is likely to affect Part L. The complexity of regulations, such as Part L, is also increasing the danger of non-compliance as builders and building control officers fail to understand it.
A summit should be held so government can exchange views with manufacturers, designers, consultants, contractors and building control. The summit will allow the industry to inform the government on future changes.
For a small-to-medium sized developer such as Macdonald Egan, the uncertainty caused by Part L is enough to upset the best laid business plans. Until the ODPM publishes the final version of Part L, the London-based firm does not know how much buildings will cost. “We need to know this because we need to revise our delivery strategy,” says director Ken Cowdery. “For instance, if Part L makes building more expensive then the value of the land will fall, which is critical as developments are often funded by borrowing money against the capital cost of the land. If the land value goes down then we will be able to borrow less money.”
We just don’t know what is required so we don’t know how much buildings will cost
The delayed introduction of Part L calculation methodologies could also slow down developers’ ability to deliver homes, says Cowdery. The move towards a carbon-based energy calculation means that Macdonald Egan has to consider how services affect the energy efficiency of their buildings. Cowdery says it is difficult to measure the merits of low energy services such as district heating if it isn’t known how much impact the technology will have on the Part L calculations. “As well as its energy performance we need to know how reliable it is and whether there will be a consequence on sales values. There will also be an impact for purchases in terms of service charges. We have to explore these new systems in detail, which will delay development decisions.”
Developments that have been designed but will not start on site until after April 2006, could also be subject to delay if they do not meet the requirements of the new Part L. Cowdery says that applications may be longer in planning or require resubmission as designs are tweaked to ensure compliance between now and going on site.
“We just don’t know what is required,” says Cowdery. “For example, it could affect the sizes of windows. If the sums don’t stack up we may have to replace glass with solid materials.” This, says Cowdery, would probably cause a backlog in planning departments and create delay to the delivery of housing.
The imminent demise of the British chimney industry came as a surprise to Robert Burke. The president of the British Flue and Chimney Manufacturers Association first heard of the threat to his members’ livelihoods when a builder told him that it would be too expensive to put a traditional chimney on a new home under the latest revision to Part L.
The complex way in which the energy performance of buildings is calculated in Part L could turn traditional chimneys into luxury items. Burke argues that the calculation of carbon emissions unfairly penalises chimneys and flues. “The ODPM has said that the new Part L will improve the energy efficiency of homes by 20%, but it is not improving the energy efficiency of flues by 20%, it is wiping them out,” says Burke.
Chimneys risk vanishing from the roofline because Part L now measures the energy performance of new homes against a notional building containing a central heating boiler and electric fire for secondary heating. As soon as designers include a flue in their designs, they are making their buildings more energy inefficient than the notional building because of air leakage.
To compensate for the inclusion of the chimney the builder will have to spend money improving the energy efficiency of the home.
Burke says that the notional building, which represents a typical new home in 2002, should include a flue if the builder plans to fit a flue in the new home. Burke and the BFCMA are still in negotiation with the ODPM about making changes to the Part L calculation methodology to enable the inclusion of chimneys and flues.
Looking for answers in Part L documents is like trying to complete a jigsaw without all the pieces
Burke says the government is being unfair, as the industry has worked hard for 30 years to improve energy efficiency. “Millions have been spent on complying with the regs and now they could be getting rid of us with one document.”
If the ODPM refuses to budge, the effects will be felt most acutely by small flue makers such as the Thurrock Flue Company, which has nine employees. Director Clive Pavitt is pessimistic about the future. “We are suffering in two ways – from the downturn in the housing market and the impending disaster of Part L”. Pavitt can’t understand why the ODPM has not allowed a changeover period for flue makers to adapt to the rules. “There’s usually a two to three year period for a gradual introduction of big changes,” he says.
… and unworkable
Stuart Holt has been in building control for 40 years and he doesn’t remember a more complex regulation than the new Part L.
Holt says that the detail of carbon energy calculations will cause problems for builders on site. “Part L has been written for scientists rather than construction professionals. With all due respect, construction professionals are not scientists, and the outcome must be capable of being delivered practically and economically.”
Architects will also have to make adjustments says Holt. “There is always a need to balance the aesthetic with what is technically possible to comply with. The current proposals make this a more demanding design activity,” he says.
Holt is advising designers and clients on how best to comply with the revision to energy standards due in April 2006. A lack of detail in draft documents is making the task difficult, says Holt. “Looking for answers in the documents is like trying to complete a jigsaw without all the pieces.”
The government published draft approved Part L documents last month, but Holt says that there is still information missing that will have an impact on Part L calculations. “Architects are in a quandary. They will have to revisit their drawings in January when all the documents are in place.”
Holt says that uncertainty over Part L is affecting the construction of a £50m project. The new Part L stipulates that energy improvements to the fabric and service of buildings will have to be made if the floor area exceeds 1000 m2, an extension is made or fitting out of a building takes place. As the fit-out will be covered by this requirement, the developer faces having to improve the fabric of the whole building just after completion. “This has consequences for payback and cost,” says Holt.