In the UK, the government are looking to radically reform building standards and introduce much greater self-regulation of the construction industry.  Here’s how The Guardian open their story about such measures:

Regulations covering building standards, including fire safety and wheelchair access, could be torn up in a government plan to cut costs for the construction industry and boost the economy.  Ministers have ordered a wide-ranging review covering all aspects of building regulations, also including standards on energy efficiency. The review, which controversially includes the option of giving the building industry more scope for self-regulation, is the latest in a series of government initiatives intended to stimulate activity in the economy and drive job creation through investment in homebuilding.  Its aim is to prune regulations “significantly”.

Apparently costs to property developers and the construction sector are worth more than people’s health and safety and also the effects on the environment of poor planning and build.  Of course, health and safety and the environment are unlikely to be in the cost-benefit model for vested interests.  And nor, no doubt, are the costs for addressing sub-standard build in the future.

Perhaps the group that is charged with reviewing standards and the regulation process should visit Ireland and have a look at what happens when you de-regulate and let the construction industry self-regulate and dictate government policy towards planning, development and construction.  Perhaps they might wander our 2,876 unfinished estates, many of which are build in unsuitable locations and are in various states of disrepair, or visit Priory Hall where residents have been forced to live in rented accommodation for over 12 months due to fire safety risks, or Gleann Riada where an apartment block was demolished and residents are living in houses prone to gas explosions, or the over 12,000 homes affected by pyrite most of which are going to need expensive restoration work.  Or the houses that have been built on floodplains.  The list could go on an on.

Planning policy and building standards and regulations were introduced for a reason.  They improve and assure the quality, safety and design of buildings and the sustainability of environments.  They do not depress construction if there is market demand for property.  Britain only has to look at its banks – the other half of the equation in property development – to know what deregulation generally means: profit before good practice.  And it only has to look at Ireland to see what happens when you deregulate and introduce laissez faire planning and self-regulation of construction (and combine that with deregulating finance).

Given that Ireland often seems to look to the UK for new policy initiatives this kind of change isn’t good news for those hoping for improved regulation, standards and enforcement with respect to development, planning and construction in Ireland.  The only people these kind of changes help are property developers and construction companies in making more profit.  It is highly unlikely that any savings from cutting corners on health and safety will be passed onto to buyers.  All the risk will be though.

Rob Kitchin

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