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Transfer of Power

12th January, 2012

“From midnight on 31st December 2011 the remaining functions under the Building Act 1984 pass from the UK Government to Welsh Ministers”

The Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) (No. 2) Order 2009 provides that the Welsh Government can now introduce, amend and endow us with provisions relating to all new builds in Wales.  The practical implications of this concession to the Welsh Government from Westminster has caused, it is fair to say, a modicum of concern within the development industry; principally because the Welsh Government is so strongly committed to achieving ultimate zero carbon development.

But what are the details and effects of this change?  Well, it’s all a bit wooly.  The Welsh Government’s intention is to set a new agenda for buildings in line with making them more “energy efficient and sustainable”.  The Welsh Government has set a target to reduce carbon emissions in new builds by 55% (compared with the baseline set in the 2006 Building Regulations), compared to 44% in England, which is set to accord with its commitment of cutting carbon emissions as a whole in Wales by 3% a year from 2011.

Commitment to zero carbon

This may all sound well and good but the pursuit towards an environmental panacea surely has to come at some cost.  Achieving zero carbon requires significant improvement (and investment) in build materials. The fabric of the building will need to attain a very high level of energy efficiency (through roofing and wall insulation) and the energy used in the buildings will need to come at least partly from renewable energy sources (such as solar and wind power, combined heat and power, and district heating and cooling systems).

All new-builds

Much of the hyperbole relates to homes.  However, it is expected that commercial and industrial buildings will also be on the hit list.  The transfer of building regulations is for all new-builds.  The Welsh Government’s intention is to map out an approach over the coming year to raise the standards of new non-domestic buildings which may have an impact on the likelihood of new industrial or commercial activity coming to Wales.  The Welsh Government is currently reviewing Part L of the Building Regulations in respect of the Conservation of Fuel and Power and has stated that it is looking at the need to align that part with current BREEAM based planning policy.  All in all, the overall cost of providing compliant materials for new builds, for both residential and commercial properties, looks to become more expensive for developers in Wales.

Obvious concern

In an attempt to reassure the industry about the changes, there is to be a series of events around Wales looking to update and address concerns about changes in regulations. The Welsh Government has also appointed eight members to a new Building Regulations Advisory Committee for Wales who are to discuss proposals and the Environment Minister is expected to consult on these proposals in March 2012.

Discomfort swells?

The exact details of the Welsh Government’s pursuit to reduce the level of carbon emissions will remain uncertain for some time to come; the consultation begins in March this year and it is understood that it wishes to set out proposals by 2013, after due consultation and consideration.  These high targets, general uncertainty and ultimate competition with England, where the targets will inevitably remain lower, will undoubtedly cause a degree of discomfort amongst those looking towards Wales as a fertile ground to invest in.  We can only wait to see where this delegation of power leads us, but in any event, a further dichotomy in the requirements for development will have to be embraced by developers and other professionals in the property industry.

On a practical point you now have to be aware that any changes by the Department of Communities and Local Government to the Building Regulations regime will only apply in England.

If you have any queries relating to this article, or planning law in general, please contact us on 01244 405555

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