Wales to control building standards

Jeremy Williams says builders on the Welsh side of the border need to keep abreast of the Welsh Government’s changing regulations.

Sustainable living is central to the Welsh Government’s policies and part of its stated vision is that there will be an annual three per cent reduction of carbon emissions in place from 2011.  Recognising that buildings are responsible for up to 40 per cent of all carbon emissions in the UK, the Welsh Government’s aim is that “all new buildings are constructed to the highest standards of energy and water efficiency and are zero carbon”.

In May 2008 the Welsh Government ordered that all new housing in Wales must be built to the Code for Sustainable Homes minimum Code Level 3. It also ordered that all new non-domestic buildings it funds must qualify for the ‘excellent’ standard set by the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

In March 2009 Zero Carbon Hub Wales was established. This is a coalition of key members of the building industry, housing and voluntary sectors who are committed to helping the Welsh Government devise ways to achieve its carbon reduction targets.

However, the government felt that it needed more powers if it was to really enforce zero carbon new builds in Wales. Accordingly, it sought to have devolved from central government the power to make its own building regulations. In November last year the Secretary of State approved the devolution of Building Regulations to Wales from December 31st 2011. This means that the executive functions in the 1984 Building Act, 2004 Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act, and the 2006 Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act will be transferred from the Secretary of State to the Welsh Ministers. In a year’s time the Welsh Government  will be in control of building in Wales. As Welsh Environment Minister Jane Davidson, commented:

“We can set the agenda for new buildings, making them more energy efficient and sustainable. This will  help homeowners and tenants across Wales to keep their energy costs down and also contribute towards our target of reducing emissions by 3 per cent a year from 2011, enabling an 80 per cent reduction by 2050”.

The Welsh Government is currently drafting new Regulations to supersede those last set in 2000. Likely to be in force in 2013, they will  be aligned with BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Housing. They may not initially demand zero carbon new builds but will aim to drastically limit carbon emissions, requiring contractors to making greater use of:

  • Fabric  performance
  • Natural ventilation
  • Heat recovery
  • Renewable energy generation
  • Energy efficient lighting

There have been considerable concerns that the extra cost of abiding by the carbon reducing requirements could see developers and contractors deterred from building in Wales. The extra costs could also see prices for new builds rise considerably in a region with a struggling housing market.

On the other hand these new Regulations will produce significant benefits, including:

  • Pushing Wales to the forefront of sustainable construction by setting a new standard for ‘green’ buildings.
  • Attracting environment-conscious companies to Wales due to availability of ‘green’ offices.
  • A significant reduction in carbon emissions.

It has been hinted that the Welsh Government will impose more stringent penalties on those who fall foul of the new Regulations.  The current penalty for breach is a maximum £5,000 fine and ongoing £50.00 a day penalty until the breach has been rectified. It is vital that developers, contractors and consultants keep abreast of the widening differences of Building Regulations between England and in Wales. This is an area where ignorance of the law really won’t pay.

Jeremy Williams is Head of Construction and partner at M&A Solicitors. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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