Transitional arrangements and regulatory lag

Cavity Wall Insulation

The ‘lag’ in building to new regulations seemingly averages around 18 months to two years from introduction, to mainstream  building to those new requirements.

Mainstream England and Wales house-building has only recently started to be to the ‘new’ 2010 regulation.  Some builders may continue constructing to the 2006 regulations for some time to come. Transitional arrangements apply where regulations change occurs, allowing developments lodged for approval before the change in  regulations to still comply under those previous regulations going forward (providing a minimum amount of work commences on site within the transitional period). Smaller developers were generally unaware of the changes in regulations and the transitional arrangememts and didn’t submit their plans before the implementation date – they typically therefore had to comply with the new standards immediately.

This is a loophole common across the various different regional regulations that I feel needs spotlighting.

Taking as an example the England and Wales 2010 revision of the Part L Approved Documents (which came into effect in October 2010), an LABC survey back in 2010 noted that in the last few months prior to the new documents coming into effect, there was a significant increase in applications made to beat the deadline. Following reproduced from article of 09 November 2010 (which requires registration to view):

  • 178,400 homes were registered between 1 July and 30 September 2010 compared with 24,240 for the same period last year. It also said building to lower energy standards would save housebuilders an average of £5,000 per home.
  • LABC also said it had only surveyed half the local authorities in England in Wales so the final numbers of pre-registered homes could be much higher than shown by the statistics.
  • Once lodged, the requirement was that as long as work commenced on a single plot on a site within the next 12 months (often just clearing the site or similar), then the regulations requirements were ‘fixed’ at 2006 levels for the whole site.

What occurred last time around was mass ‘banking’ of sites, fixing compliance requirements to the older version of the regulations to avoid more costly compliance (but also leading to higher emissions for those dwellings compared to the improved levels that would have been required if they had been built to the newer regulations).

Transitional arrangements are necessary, but surely the loophole could at least be tightened to try and reduce some of the regulations avoidance that happened last time?  

Perhaps the requirement should be for every plot needing to be started on a site within the  transitional period, with any plot not commenced,  required to comply with the incoming regulations. Possibly this could be combined with reducing the transitional period for start of works to 6 months instead of a year? If we’re serious about bringing down UK carbon emissions and reducing fuel bills through improved construction, it’s an issue that needs to be looked at.

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Jon Ducker is a qualified energy assessor working for Kingspan Insulation Ltd. He has an extensive knowledge of energy efficiency, renewable energy systems and sustainability in buildings with an expert knowledge of the relevant sections of buildings regulations and standards and their interactions with SAP. He provides authoritative advice regarding energy assessments for a wide range of public and private sector clients.

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