The government's decision to put acoustic testing on hold for new dwellings will be a relief to housebuilders, but will the impact of the new acoustic regulations be dampened as a result?
Later this autumn, the revisions to Part E of the Building Regulations will be published. The changes require increased standards of sound insulation for dwellings and will force developers and contractors to change the way they build homes.

It could have been tougher though. The original proposals for the new Part E stated that housebuilders would have to test a sample of homes on all their development to prove they were meeting the new insulation requirements. This may now not be the case. The government's recent announcement on Part E is giving the industry the chance to avoid acoustic testing by developing its own robust standard details.

Developers carrying out flat conversions don't have the same get-out clause. They will have to test their homes for compliance with Part E from 1 July 2003, as will builders of new hotels and hostels. Housebuilders, on the other hand, will escape the testing requirement if the Building Regulations Advisory Committee believes that Robust Standard Details developed by the House Builders Federation are of a consistently good performance.

The HBF, which put forward the proposal, now has 18 months to come up with successful designs. If it fails, the cost to the industry could be £50m - that is what HBF's technical director Dave Baker estimates housebuilders would have to spend on acoustic testing.

Acoustic testing has been a widely accepted procedure used by Scottish local authorities for nearly 20 years. It has had the affect of forcing housebuilders to improve the standard of sound insulation in walls and floors. In the first tests 60% of floors and 40% of walls did not pass. Now that figure has dropped to 5%. There is doubt whether the situation will improve in England and Wales without testing and one acoustic engineer says that the government's lenient line on testing amounts to a fudge.

The problem is that without tests there won't be an obvious way of checking the standard of workmanship. When the government assesses the HBF's robust details it must factor in the quality of workmanship on site. Failure to do so will mean that the government's pledge to protect residents from noise will be severely undermined.