Cameron’s plans were revealed in a speech to the Federation of Small Businesses. He argued these trimmed down guidelines will make it vastly cheaper for businesses to comply with policy, saving them £850 million. This hefty cut is part of a larger goal to be the first government to reduce rather than increase regulations.
With the ongoing shortage of housing in the UK, anything to help house builders should be welcome news, but there are concerns that this may represent an unhealthy policy reversal. Cameron previously made bold claims of leading the “greenest government ever”, yet those 80,000 pages heading to the bonfire include environmental regulations on waste disposal, hedgerow protection and demands for renewable energy sources. Whilst this is unlikely to have any impacts on Part L at this stage, other sectors of regulation are likely to be affected.
Minimum space standards could be scraped and accessibility requirements rationalised and slimmed down. This could also ultimately impact Local Planning Policy and whether the London Plan survives the cut will be a battle of political wills between the Mayor and the PM. So with this rationalisation of Regulation, could the 2016 target of Zero Carbon Homes be on the block? There was already widespread scepticism as to whether the industry or the government were ready to implement this new standard on time, and with the latter apparently not as green as they first appeared; it now seems less likely than ever.
The main issue with this announcement is the lack of detail.
With even minor adjustments to regulations taking months of consultations and bureaucratic shuffling, sudden, dramatic overhauls such as those proposed this week are unlikely to be quick ones. For one the National Planning Policy Framework will need to be amended to downscale the power of Local Planning Authorities. Uncertainty over how to build and what to build to could flow forth if the PMs announcement isn't clarified soon and uncertainty won’t boost confidence in the construction sector.
Cameron's plans to cut “100 overlapping and confusing” standards down to 10 sound promising, but it's the suggested scrapping of environmental regulations, such as the Code for Sustainable Homes, which has been greeted with such a negative response from the UK Green Building Council. “The Prime Minister’s boasts of ‘slashing 80,000 pages’ of environmental guidance is utterly reprehensible. “It is the same poisonous political rhetoric from Number 10, devaluing environmental regulation in a slash and burn manner,” said Paul King, Chief Executive at UKGBC. “These words are not only damaging and irresponsible, but misrepresent the wishes of so many modern businesses, both large and small.”
But it's all worth it if we can solve the housing crisis, right?
Unfortunately, if reports are correct, that silver lining may not be too shiny. Apparently, included in this unwanted “red tape” are regulations on window sizes and minimum room space. According to The Guardian's Architecture and Design Blog, British room sizes have already shrunk to an average of 76 sq m, even smaller than the notoriously cramped Japan, where they enjoy a cosy average of 92 sq m. Removing restrictions could see this figure drop even further. Cramped rooms and small windows may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but ultimately if houses can be sold then the market will dictate just how successful the Government’s intervention will be.
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