May 24, 2024

Why Sustainability Will Benefit From Regulatory Changes in Construction

For some time now, we’ve been regular participants in the Voices in Construction Insight Panels organised by specialist construction marketing agency BCM, and on 26th April we took part in the sixth such session, entitled Regulatory Changes in Construction – Hurdles or Opportunities?

What emerged from this discussion was that these changes, in many ways, put the industry in a far better place than it was before, in terms of safety, quality, and – our own special interest – sustainability.

Below, we’ve summarised some of the helpful information and opinions shared in this session, and we’re sure they’ll make for interesting reading.

Regulatory changes: complex and opaque

As sustainable building design consultants, we’re no strangers to regulatory change, particularly given the Government’s repeated flip-flopping on Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) and Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs).

But when, in the session, we explored the wider regulatory changes, the outcome was breathtaking. As just a snapshot, in February 2024 alone, one single regulatory update spanned six different Acts and regulation subsets.

This highlights two of the major issues with regulatory change in the construction industry: its complexity and the disparity of its communication.

As one of the panellists, John Carter of GeoGrow, observed of the changes, “If you didn’t go looking for them, you wouldn’t know!”

“There’s been no national media campaign from the Government, and it feels like the legislation just hasn’t been rolled out properly.”

A step forward in building control

This said, the feeling amongst the panellists was that the regulatory changes – however complex and poorly communicated – do actually put the sector in a better place and support it to move forward.

Much of this is to do with major upheavals to the building control process. As panellist Rachel Legood of Hertfordshire Building Control explained, for example, duty holder roles such as principal designer and principal contractor have now had their responsibilities significantly reinforced in law, and building control bodies’ enforcement powers have been much strengthened.

David Aitchison, of BCC Consultancy, also explained that the introduction of the Building Safety Regulator (BSR) also enhances building control through the Registered Building Control Approver process.

This makes it mandatory for building inspectors to be registered and to certify their competence. “Rather like a driving licence that stipulates what kind of vehicles you can drive,” David said, “this registration process now makes totally transparent which kinds of building a building inspector is qualified to inspect and approve.”

David’s view on these developments was that they constitute “a new beginning” for building standards in the UK, and this very much chimed with our view that the changes put building control back in the position of authority it was in 30 years ago, giving it more teeth to do a better, more practical job.

The impact on business

One of the very pertinent questions that was asked in the session was about the effects of wide-ranging changes on the everyday work of our construction industry professionals.

For some, this has spelled new opportunities. BCC Consultancy, for example, was created within Hertfordshire Building Control to focus specifically on supporting clients’ principal designers with their newfound duties and responsibilities.

The need for education as an impact of the regulatory changes also loomed large in the panellists’ responses – our own included.

John Carter’s business has had to undertake an extensive education campaign to make his customers aware of biodiversity net gain regulations.

And both Rachel Legood and we at GBD made the point that we have not only ramped up our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activity, but invested heavily in educating our own people about the changes, too.

The CPDs are especially important for us, as the regulatory changes favour heat pumps as the low-carbon solution of choice, but very few companies are truly qualified to install and commission them effectively – something we’re working hard, through our CPDs, to help both the industry and the general public to understand.


The impact on clients and end-clients

From the point of view of clients and end-clients, there will inevitably be, asAlex Lyons of construction insurers London Belgravia Group put it, “bumps in the road”, and Rachel Legood pointed out a couple of these.

Firstly, the new building control enforcement powers will be actively monitored, raising the possibility of additional intervention that could potentially slow project completion and frustrate clients’ and end-clients ’expectations.

Secondly, many construction businesses simply don’t have the necessary people in place to assume the responsibilities the new legislation requires, so they face significant additional recruitment and training costs, potentially occasioning delays that, once again, impact the client and end-client experience.


Good news for sustainable building

But from where we’re sitting, what many of the changes in construction sector regulations represent is a closing of loopholes and a tightening of slack practice that can only benefit the spread of sustainable and energy-efficient construction, and, consequently, strengthen the market opportunity for companies like ours.

In the past, for example, compliance was often permitted to be based on unproven assumptions of conformity to standards. This often made it impossible for the responsibility for issues, corrections, and rectifications to be clearly apportioned and enforced.

This, in turn, then often led to a permanent impasse, and, ultimately, less sustainable building outcomes.

But with stricter building control and inspection regulations now in force, the opportunity for duty holders to, as David Aitchison put it, “abdicate responsibility” is no more.

And as a company that has responsibility at its core, the new regime gets our vote.


Get in touch to find out more about how we can help you decarbonise your building, and transition cost-effectively to lower energy consumption and a net zero planet.

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