Thumbs down for proposed changes to Welsh Building Regs

Published:  30 October, 2012

UK: The Welsh Government’s proposals to change the Building Regulations has received the thumbs’ down from the Builders Merchants’ Federation (BMF).

The Government in Cardiff wants to change Part L of the Welsh Regulations that relate to fuel and power. The intention is to introduce energy-efficiency consequential improvements on voters when they have property extensions or conversions done in the future.

Responding to a consultation exercise, the BMF formally opposed the proposals because it believes trying to force voters in this way is heavy-handed and counter-productive. The merchants’ organisation told officials in Cardiff that imposing further regulation is not sensible when the house-building and home improvement industries remain in a double-dip recession.

In its written reply, the BMF said anything that makes extensions and conversions more expensive will reduce trading activity for merchants. At a time when construction is vital in creating much-needed Welsh jobs and growth, this is bad policy. BMF believes the idea will deter families and businesses from spending - meaning lower sales for merchants - and less work for builders and allied trades.

The consultation was broadly similar to that conducted in England earlier this year that lead to the ‘Conservatory Tax’ headlines in the Daily Mail. Notable differences in the Welsh Government’s consultation included questions on:

  1. what should be the role of local planning authorities in setting local standards above and beyond the Regulations,
  2. how can Cardiff ensure a level playing field of standards across Wales.

Local planning authorities ought to have no such role whatsoever, said the BMF. Councils should not be allowed to ‘gold plate’ the Building Regs by (for instance) stipulating the use of local or traditional materials. Any good builder will know that doing so for aesthetic or other reasons - eg. using Welsh sheep wool for insulation - will differentiate him/her from the next builder. The BMF argues such practices can be a USP and create a sales and marketing edge for good builders.

Although the Welsh Government has no VAT powers, the BMF urged Cardiff to accept it is wrong to apply 5% VAT on energy consumption, but 20% VAT for energy conservation. The BMF believes there is a compelling case to review current VAT rules and rates if Wales moves towards adopting more low- or zero-carbon building standards.

Existing arrangements are complex, confusing and do not favour green improvements. Most SME builders in Wales are unlikely to know how these apply at present - neither will their customers. Yet they are the people who will be expected to conform if these proposals for energy-efficiency consequential improvements are imposed on Welsh properties.

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