Building regs front page news. Here. That's twice in one year, after the Conservatory Tax fiasco back in April. What's going on?
It's hard not to conclude that it's the work of the headline-grabbing tea party tendency which seems to have taken over the Treasury, the rip-up red tape at any cost brigade.
In principle, there is nothing wrong with turning the building regs into a political football. In fact, I welcome it as it's actually a fascinating area. The regs are constantly under review in any event, and that doesn't always mean they get stricter and more expensive. I have sat in on a dozen or so government-sponsored meetings in the past five years which were seeking input from the selfbuild/DIY sectors, with a view to simplifying the building regs. What struck me after all this is how slowly the wheels turn and how good intentions very quickly get watered down. If there really is to be a bonfire, it will probably take an age to catch fire and we won't see its effects for about five years. Long after the next general election.
On the other hand, there's no doubt that the heavy hand of state intervention is writ large across our building activities and, thanks to this, we now have building standards that are far in advance of what we were required to meet even in my building lifetime (which began in 1980). Sometimes the regs are intrusive and seem petty, but mostly everyone is happy to accept them as they do make for better, safer homes. And if everybody has to comply, then there is no feeling of being cheated.
But in practice, any change in the building regs causes problems and upheavals. They are not easy to implement and they take years to bed in. If the government chooses to turn back the clock and make our building standards less exacting — and cheaper — that's its prerogative. But the way to do it is to bring it in as a fait accompli, not to announce to the world at large that it's undertaking a review. That's just political posturing which is likely to cause a good deal of confusion. The one thing it won't do is to "Get Britain Building" or some such silly nostrum. If anything, it's likely to make people pull projects they might otherwise have been considering on the grounds that they might just save a few quid.