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Watts Bulletin (Issue 137)

Welcome to the last Watts Bulletin of 2012 – a year that started on a low note for construction as the economy fell back into double dip recession and then began to see a faltering improvement, boosted by the London Olympics. Latest economic figures indicate that the UK is now slowly easing its way out of recession but any real improvement in construction activity is likely to take some time to filter through.

As we report in this issue, the government’s Green Deal – heralded as one of the drivers that would kick-start the contracting side of the industry as homeowners sign up for environmental improvements - has so far failed to meet expectations with its launch delayed until the new year. Also in this issue we look at the new Independent Challenge Panel’s review of building standards and a new 13-point plan for public procurement published by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Excellence in Construction.

Watts Bulletin (Issue 137)

Building standards under review

Don Foster, Minister for the Department for Communities and Local Government, has launched a new independent group of building industry experts, tasked with simplifying the mass of rules imposed on developers and house builders, to make them easier to understand and follow.

November Bulletin Main

As part of the government's Red Tape Challenge, Ministers have made clear they want to do everything possible to remove unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy imposed on developers to get much needed new homes built, and support economic growth.  On 31 October 2012, the Communities Minister explained that the current, complex system of building regulations and housing standards will be tackled by the new Independent Challenge Panel, which will look at how the existing regulations and standards work together and what potential there is to free up the system and make it work more efficiently. The Minister made it clear that essential safety and access measures will remain untouched and that homes will continue to be built to high sustainability and quality standards. The panel will report to ministers in spring 2013.

The Red Tape Challenge was launched by the Prime Minister in April 2011 and is systematically examining some 6,500 substantive regulations that the government inherited, with the aim of scrapping or significantly reducing as many of them as possible. It gives business and the public the chance to have their say on the regulations that affect their everyday lives. The Housing and Construction Red Tape Challenge was open for comment from the 12 January until 17 February 2012.

A separate group will work alongside the new Challenge Panel to consider the specific issue of standards applied to house building. At present, hundreds of standards can be applied to new-build homes, some of which duplicate each other. While some are applied nationally across certain types of homes such as affordable housing, others are made mandatory by individual councils for building in their area and some are voluntary. This frequently leads to confusion. Examples include:

  • The requirement for two phone lines in home offices, irrespective of need and in addition to broadband connection
  • Rules on window sizes that include a 'dirty window factor' - imposing bigger windows to allow for dirt on them, rather than assuming people will simply clean their windows
  • A requirement that 'drying space' is designed and assessed when often this is nothing more complicated than a washing line over a bath
  • Conflicting guidance on how to construct safe and accessible stairs

Standards are often assessed repeatedly by different people - such as planners, code assessors, building control officers - often looking at the same issues  but coming up with different solutions. The new review aims to avoid overlap and duplication in the system, helping ensure that builders meet the high standards that homeowners expect.

Mr Foster said: "I want to see a simpler set of housing standards that people can easily understand and that free up developers and councils to get on with the job of building the high quality new homes we so badly to get more first time buyers and families onto the housing ladder."

The review was part of the government's housing and growth strategy, announced on 6 September.  It will result in a clear plan of action by next spring that will be put out to consultation.

Some of the housing standards that the review will consider include the Code for Sustainable Homes, Secured by Design, Lifetime Homes, Standards and Quality in Development and the Homes and Communities Agency's Housing Quality Indicators.

The review is taking place alongside a review of planning practice guidance which was announced on 16 October 2012, and both groups will be working closely together.

For more information go to the Red Tape Challenge website at www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk

Do you thinking housing standards need to be revised – and, if so, what changes would you like to see? Get in touch with your views on Watts’ Twitter page @Watts_Group or become a member of the Watts Bulletin group on LinkedIn.

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Watts Bulletin editor: Trevor Rushton.

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