I’m getting hacked off. Again. What’s got my goat this time? It’s the building regs, and the fact that not only are they constantly changing but that we have in our nation three different versions. And this is about to become four, as Wales is set to rest control of its building regs from England very shortly. So it will no longer be the “England & Wales” building regs.
Now I am sure that this gives the politicians in Cardiff a warm glow as its seen as yet another step towards devolution. Like…“We can’t raise our own taxes, but boy can we introduce a few new building regs.” And I happen to know that Wales is going to take this opportunity not only to translate them into native Welsh, but to green them faster than England — as if this is a competition!
But what actually happens is that it creates confusion. For users, for manufacturers, for practitioners. And for journalists writing about these matters.
I can remember sitting in a seminar in Ecobuild this year listening to some guy from the ministry going on about the forthcoming changes to Part G, the water regulations. He mentioned that bath taps are going to have to be thermostatic in future, but that it had been decided that other taps and showers would be left uncontrolled. Then he added that in Scotland, more taps have to be thermostatically controlled. I duly noted this and thought to myself that I was somehow lucky to have such an important and useful piece of information related to me. Not many people would know this.
But just how different? Could I actually be arsed to go and check this out? Well, no, not really, because the very big chances are that I will never ever be involved in installing bathrooms in Scotland. And that whilst a few of my readers might be, I sort of object to having to look up such obscure data on the off chance that some of them might find this vaguely useful.
The truth is that I really don’t want to know about the differences between the Scottish and English and Welsh building regulations. Not to mention the N Irish ones as well. Life is just too fucking short for all this. It’s bad enough having to write about building regulations at all, without having to go all anal and smug and saying “if you think that’s draconian, you should see what you have to do in Scotland” or “whilst in England they have to do x in 2016, in Wales they are going to have something similar (never identical) in place by 2012.”
What we should be moving towards is a pan-European building code. After all the laws of physics are no different in Sicily. The climate and the customs may well be, but the codes are capable of adapting to this very easily. We do it in the UK with our rain exposure maps which show just where you can and can’t install full fill cavity wall insulation. OK, we don’t have big earthquakes here, but there’s nothing stopping you having a section for building in quake zones, and even translating it into Welsh if it makes everyone feel better.
OK, I accept that such a project would be many years away, but for Wales to take off on its own and start up with a new set of regulations seems to me to be moving in completely the wrong direction. The only reason for Wales to have separate building regs is to differentiate themselves from the English. But what is the point of that? If they really wanted to differentiate themselves, why not say “OK guys, we appreciate the power to change our building regs, but lets put common sense in front of small town politicking and lets stay with the one set we already have. We can call them the Welsh building regs, but in reality they will be identical to the current England & Wales version.” Which, ironically, is what the Irish Republic chose to do many years ago, despite having achieved full independence.
What’s doubly weird about all this is that, politically, I fully support the break-up of the UK into separate nations, and the closer integration of us all into Europe. So you could argue that I am being thoroughly inconsistent here. But maybe not, because I also like the idea of a common currency, even though it’s currently in big trouble. I certainly support any moves towards a common set of building regulations. Balkanising the regs is bad news for all of us.