Never has politics played such a big part in homebuilding. And never has it been more confusing. We’ve had a plethora of new regulations, codes, levies and action plans — some helpful, some obstructive.
If that’s not enough, we now appear to be moving towards a state of affairs where the basic Building Regulations are becoming a political football. The Coalition Government has become deeply divided over how we should build homes.
The status quo, inherited from the last Government, was that we should set demanding environmental standards and put in place a road map, known as the Code for Sustainable Homes, so that everyone involved in the construction of new homes knew what to aim for and when. The Code sets out a series of levels and the idea is (or was) that we should all reach the top, Code Level 6 – the so-called zero-carbon home – in 2016.
The Code for Sustainable Homes has not been without its critics, but at least it’s clear and concise. The first few years (it was launched in 2007) went well and many local authorities started making the Code a planning condition. Furthermore, aspects of the Code started to be incorporated into the Building Regulations; when the energy-efficiency regs (Part L) were last upgraded, in 2010, Code Level 3 became the basic standard.
The next change to Part L is due to happen this year and it was assumed that the energy standards set by Code Level 4 would become Building Regulation. But now the whole project has run into political headwinds and there are doubts about what will happen.
In October 2012, the Government announced that it was undertaking a ‘slash the red tape’-style review of the Building Regulations and the Code for Sustainable Homes, claiming that all the added costs were acting as an impediment to getting Britain building again. The road map had just been binned. You can take it as read that the Liberal Democrats were not on board with this development.
To be fair, there’s always been problems with the Code, especially Level 6. From the outset, there was a failure to define what exactly a ‘zero-carbon home’ was, or should be, and the few prototypes that have been built since 2007 have been much more expensive than first anticipated. They required lots of renewables and there’s been a marked reluctance to make this compulsory on all homes.
Whilst you can make a case that all this extra environmental regulation is a pointless waste of money, the whole point of having a defined road map in place is to allow the industry to plan ahead and reduce the impact of the added costs; this has already happened with products like condensing boilers, which are now the same price as conventional boilers were 10 years ago. This seems unlikely now. In place of a road map to green homes, we have political infighting and confusion. It’s certainly not going to get Britain building.