New ‘roadmap’ for new homes

12 July 2014

TRADA membership and marketing manager Rupert Scott discusses the implications of the roadmap for changes to Building Regulations

In his recent statement, minister for communities and local government Stephen Williams outlined what he called a new 'roadmap' for delivering a radically simplified system for setting standards in the design and construction of new homes by the end of the current Parliament.

"This," he said, "represents the outcome of a significant and ambitious drive to reduce the regulatory burden on the housing industry, and will save money and time for industry and authorities. These changes will hugely improve the situation for all involved, by rationalising and simplifying the many overlapping and confusing standards currently in operation." (The full statement can be found at attachment_data/file/291796/140313_Building_Regulations.pdf)

So what does this mean? It should ensure that the number of regulations and codes - and the work involved in complying with them - is significantly streamlined. In particular, government has been concerned over the duplication of work and multiple standards/grades for the same aspect. Perhaps the best example is the two-tier system created through the Code for Sustainable Homes, where social housing was effectively required to achieve higher sustainability standards. It was believed this would help create a market for higher performance products and systems, which could then be made a requirement for all buildings.

In TRADA's opinion this approach was misguided and we are therefore pleased to see it dropped. It created confusion, with too many different standards that housebuilders and product manufacturers were trying to cater for.

The code is to be dropped and all relevant elements to be incorporated into Building Regulations as appropriate. An optional level of accessibility will be introduced in Part M which will set out criteria for age-friendly, accessible and adaptable housing. The government also plans to set out an optional standard for wheelchair adaptable and accessible housing.

This seems like a good idea. While it adds initial costs, there are many cases where it is known that it's worth doing - and where it is far easier and cheaper to build to the higher standard from the outset than alter a building later.

Some excellent work has been done in this area to create well-considered solutions to building design through the likes of the 'Lifetime homes standard'. The key issue is to have an overall system that allows these standards to be used where they are needed.

The government also recognises the value of a single minimum security standard for new homes based on industry's best practice. BM TRADA offers testing and certification of doorsets and windows for the Secured by Design standard and is therefore aware of the issues involved. It is clear that one of the reasons the current system works is because the police are able to work with laboratories and certification bodies and make quick and effective changes to the test methods when new burglary practice occurs. It is vital that the ability to move quickly in these instances remains if any changes are to be made to the regulatory framework.

In the 2013 Budget, the government reaffirmed its commitment to implement the zero carbon homes policy for new homes from 2016. This, it stated, will be achieved through a strengthening of the energy performance requirements in Part L (incorporating carbon compliance, energy-efficient fabric and services), and the delivery of allowable solutions.

Part L is probably the most complicated area in terms of the procedures to establish and prove that the required performance is set and achieved. It is further complicated by additional local requirements set by planners, for example. We support the government's drive to control or stop local standards being applied.

On a separate matter there is a need to define what zero carbon means. The setting of a goal in 2006 to achieve 'zero carbon' for all new homes by 2016 was foolish, given that noone knew what this meant. The date is nearly upon us and it is time to stop talking in riddles and take some tough decisions.

The government says it plans to develop a new national standard - not a Building Regulation - that will offer a consistent set of requirements for the internal area of new homes.

While the desire to address the issue of space, which for the consumer is probably the most important issue, should be applauded, the statement lacks the necessary degree of bite to make much difference.

After years of policies that have sought to increase housing density through the planning regime, we now have a legacy of hundreds of thousands of homes that are arguably too small.

Homes should, in TRADA's opinion, be built with adequate space for storing coats, wellies and pushchairs and for parking