Hearts & Minds: Parts F and L

There’s no doubt that our building regulations are ripe for renewal. For too long they have been allowed to lag behind the curve of change, stagnating. They have not kept up to date with the latest thinking amongst industry academics and professionals. As evidenced by the Hackitt inquiry, and subsequent report, many are outdated, some are no longer fit for purpose and a handful are actively putting the public at risk!

Current revisions, specifically to Parts F and L, have been hotly anticipated. For some they’ve been regarded as a big step in the right direction, while others disagree.

Of course, the issues they are designed to address are complex and varied, so naturally a debate will arise on their potential impact. Part F focuses on the ventilation of a new property, Parts F and L on the conservation of fuel and power. It is the latter which is proving to be contentious. New build housing - Parts F and L

I feel that, fundamentally, the proposed reforms to the standards, particularly Part L, do not go nearly far enough. Disappointingly it’s a missed opportunity to squarely address the global climate emergency we currently face. They have been designed to have universal appeal and avoid controversy, but in doing this they appear lacklustre.

Even so, the modest changes currently proposed will no doubt face significant resistance from the construction industry.

The main problem, which has not been properly considered, is how these changes to building regulations will affect housebuilders, and their suppliers, in the short term. Ultimately, developers are producing a product to sell and it will be a painful conversation, when it happens, about who will foot the bill to cover the changes propose by both Parts F and L. Will the builder swallow the cost or pass them to the customer? I think we can take an educated guess as to the answer.

Unfortunately, responding to upcoming change remains sluggish. Even in 2020, in spite of all we know, most new build homes still use gas for the primary heating fuel. Yes, there are some developers trying to move away, but the majority are not making large enough steps in the right direction.

Apprehension towards the new regulations will only be intensified through lack of clarity. On one hand they force the issue on the developer, but equally they leave aspects open to choice. This seems confusing and counterproductive, leaving the standards vulnerable to skirt-arounds.

Ultimately, there’s little excuse not to change, as we can already generate green electricity using technology currently available to us. Fast forward a few years and, inevitably, clean energy will be the power source of choice for everything from cars and cookers to heating and hot water systems. Why are developers not investing now to get ahead of this transition which, sooner or later, will be forced on them?

Housing Associations have an opportunity to look beyond Parts F and L, incorporating green solutions to improve the lives of tenants. It’s about striking a balance, building in sustainable systems, but delivering them at a reasonable cost to the end user. It will be hard to achieve but essential. Developers might have to take an initial financial hit to see long-term value.

We’ll no doubt see more reaction to the changes in the coming months, but you can be sure that, if nothing else, these revisions will throw up more constructive questions about how we start building for a low carbon future in earnest.