|Posted by Geoff Wilkinson on January 24, 2011 at 12:30 PM|
In a statement to Parliament, before Christmas Communities Minister Andrew Stunell announced the findings of his review and reaffirmed the commitment to revising Building Regulations on the conservation of fuel and power 2013.
WCCL have obtained an exclusive interview with Andrew at his parliamentary office.
WCCL Readers may be unaware that your early career was in architecture. Can you say more about that time?
AS Certainly. As you say before I started my career in politics I was involved in architecture and studied Architecture at University of Manchester and Liverpool Polytechnic. After I graduated I worked as an architectural assistant, initially with CWS in Manchester, then with Runcorn New Town from 1967 to 1981 before doing a few years as a freelance.
WCCL And what was your most memorable design project?
AS That was probably while I was at Runcorn new town where I worked on the shopping city development, and then on the Schreiber Factory, which was a large and interesting development and is still there today. However, I always had a hankering for housing projects, and was involved in a timber frame system build project as well.
WCCL The building regulations changed greatly between 1965 and 1985 - What was your biggest challenge in getting designs approved during that time?
AS I can still remember the old style building regulations, and what was then part H stairs. During my time at Runcorn I became a bit of an expert and worked with Telford to develop a design system using algorithms, a potential forerunner of the approved details of today, which we presented to the DOE at the time, but which were overtaken by the changes.
WCCL The option to use private sector building control, using Approved Inspectors has been introduced since 1985 - do you think this has led to an improved service or has competition lowered standards?
AS Competition has improved customer focus, reduced costs and does what it says on the side of the tin. That said I do still have concerns about the levels of compliance generally, though I don’t believe that is linked to the introduction of Approved Inspectors, but is an issue for the sector generally. There is also a difference between regulations and compliance, particularly with regard to sustainability and this is an area to address. I feel that areas such as structure and fire precautions are correctly addressed but areas such as insulation need to be given equal importance by industry, to ensure that what is delivered reflects what was designed. Recent study by Zero Carbon Hub on Carbon Compliance shows that there are significant variations between the performance of buildings at the design stage and what is delivered on site. All sides of the system need to evolve new skill sets to address this issue and ensure that buildings perform as intended.
WCCL You recently requested comment on the future of building regulations. Given the extensive plan that the previous government had in place for the Future of building control why did you consider this necessary?
AS Its important for any incoming administration to have confidence in the direction of travel and that’s why we consulted again. We are looking to build on the existing plans but any regulations must be tested in terms of cost and burden to ensure that they are appropriate, First thing to say that is that we believe that broadly speaking building regulations continue to be the best option ,and we will not be moving away from that type of system to say one based on insurance as you see in other parts of Europe. The overwhelming response was that the system was not broken and doesn’t need replacing, but would benefit from some tweaking.
WCCL Readers probably know you best for the private members bill that became the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act. That Act contains a provision for an Appointed Person - can you say more about the thinking that led to the inclusion of this role and do you think it will be necessary to enable that provision?
AS I wouldn’t say that I’m famous for it but it is certainly a landmark in my political career and the first to address the issue of sustainability in existing buildings. Coming top of a Private Member's Bill list is an opportunity that every MP dreams of - an opportunity to translate a personal passion into law and touch people's lives. I chose a bill that would make our homes and the buildings we work in greener for the environment, safer from vandalism and crime, and cheaper to run. It's been a great success to get an Act of Parliament onto the Statute Book, but there is a lot more to be done before our buildings and our environment get the benefits.
As for Appointed Persons the problem is that there is no one currently responsible for ensuring a building complies, and it’s difficult to establish who should take the rap if it doesn’t. The idea of the appointed person is that it’s clear that is where the buck stops. The plans form part of the current review and we will be looking at how, if and under what circumstances it would be appropriate to legislate.
WCCL Recent events in Sweden have once again raised the issue of terrorism attack against our buildings and infrastructure. Do you anticipate the need to make building regulations to address this issue?
AS Security measures are the remit of the Home Office and we obviously work with our colleagues in that department, but at the moment it would not be proportionate to introduce new regulations. There are of course a number of excellent guides that designers can use for reference produced by the Home office, and we will continue to keep the matter under review.
WCCL The coalition are looking at ways of removing conflicting and complex approval processes, do you see the SSBA as an opportunity to incorporate Secure by Design standards into the building regulations?
AS It’s an area we are looking at, but again needs to ensure a balanced point of view, and we are speaking to colleagues in the home office and the Association of British Insurers and Association of Chief Police Officers to establish the best way forward. The Secure by design standards are a good model but any regulation would need to ensure that costs were proportionate and did not introduce unnecessary burdens.
WCCL Clearly you are passionate about the environment and sustainability generally, and I have a few questions for you on this topic.
Many architects complain about the conflicts between planning and building control imposing differing environmental standards - do you agree with the view that building control is the correct mechanism for monitoring and enforcement of carbon compliance.
AS It is right that there are places where the two systems don’t fit together. Building Regulations are objective whilst planning is more subjective and quite rightly place-related. We have no ambition to convert either to the other, though we are looking at how to link a system of building regulation options to local standards through some form of planning flex. We have already started through the Localism Bill to create capacity within the local plan to address sustainability.
WCCL There is a wide ranging view amongst contractors that Part L has become too complex, with support for a simplified option based on the Passivhaus system. Is this something you would be looking to introduce?
AS As we move towards Zero Carbon in 2016 it is to be expected that design will become more complex. Solutions are becoming more technology based and are relatively untried within the construction industry, and there remain concerns about the levels of competence and craftsmanship. We understand that small builders in particular like approved details and these will continue to be an important part of future guidance, but we need to ensure that when constructed on site they are representative of laboratory test conditions.
WCCL The Housing Minister Grant Shapps recently announced plans to merge the Code for Sustainable Homes into Building Regulations, can you comment on how that will be achieved?
AS The Building Regulations provide a national base standard and will continue to do so. But we see this as a strong foundation on which to build into a local framework. It is important to recognise that there is significant variation, the climate in the South East is not the same as the North West for example, and there are great variations in wind speeds and rainfall.
We want to see a system that is deliverable, affordable yet provides scope for imaginative solutions. We will take the house builders views into account but I don’t think that they should take priority over the wider agenda.
WCCL The green deal is a major cornerstone of the coalition’s plans to reduce carbon emissions and the first time a Government has seriously looked to tackle the existing building stock. I note the plans for contractors operating under the scheme will require registration to tackle the issue of rogue traders. Do you anticipate a further extension of the competent person schemes to cover the Green Deal or will works carried out under that scheme still need to go through the building control system?
AS Its likely to be a bit of both, as not all work under the green deal will require consent. Quite simply on those projects that do, building regulations will still be required, while those that don’t won’t need it. Contractors registered under the various competent person schemes will be well equipped to deliver Green Deal projects, but it will not be a statutory requirement.
WCCL Building control fees for domestic projects have increased significantly since October - way in excess of inflation. There is a risk that this may drive home owners into the black market - will you be doing anything to increase local authorities powers of enforcement against those who try to avoid the system?
AS Firstly I’m not convinced that fees have risen. What has happened is that the fees are now based on the cost of delivery and vary with scale and complexity and fees are higher as projects become more complex. It is also important to remember that its now an open market and architects can choose to use the private sector. The new fee scales have only been introduced for a few months and we will need to wait and see if there are any effects on compliance, but I don’t believe there will be.
We recognise that the skill and competence of parts of the workforce, including white van man, can be an issue. Generally they do a good job but do not necessarily have a sophisticated understanding of issues such as air tightness and how important that is to compliance. I think this is mostly an issue of education, but as for fines and penalties we have no current plans but have not ruled them out as an option if needed.
WCCL We have heard a lot recently about the coalitions’ commitment to localism and how this will shape the planning system. How does this commitment fit with the concept of a national consistent system of minimum building regulations?
AS As we have already said Building Regulations are appropriate for national minimum standards, especially in relation to health and safety. I believe that there is scope for local standards for instance relating to climatic differences. It would not be controversial for local Authorities to have options to consider local standards based on a copy book that they could draw from.
WCCL Finally is there any one message that you would like to get across?
AS I believe in a high quality built environment that is safe to live in and preserves the planet for future generations. We must remember that buildings in the UK are responsible for 40-50% of all our carbon dioxide emissions, and half of that is produced by our homes. Carbon reduction is the highest priority for my department in terms of policy and for building regulations. Therefore everyone in the built environment field will have a significant role to play in those plans, and I very much hope they are up for it.
Many thanks for speaking to me today Andrew,
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