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Time to regulate the regulations?

In communities where men build ships for their own sons to fish or fight from, quality is never a problem

Not the most comfortable of reading – the stories doing the rounds about the horrendous experiences of some purchasers of new build homes.

The BBC was running the story today of poor Karen Stacey-Pope http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42396938 whose house, less than a year old, is suffering from problems such as airbricks being buried underground, gaps under doors where slugs, snails and all manner of garden beasties are getting in, a sinking driveway, leaking ceilings, regular flooding and damp and a complete lack of movement joints. The housebuilder might very well call these ‘snags’, to Stacey-Pope and her independent surveyor, they are defects, so serious as to make the house uninhabitable.

Clearly, there are plenty of people out there who have bought new-build homes for whom the experience has been entirely problem-free and who are very happy, but a) these people don’t make for good news stories and b) there are enough people in similar circumstances to Stacey-Pope to realise that there are a great many houses out there that are being bodged.

I’ve written about this issue before, when a man from Kent was almost killed by the shoddy building work in his £450,000 home and our Guest Blogger Steve Mansour this week talks about it too. This, plus the publication of the initial Hackitt Repot into the Building Regulations and Fire Safety, made me revisit the issue.

Sure, Dame Judith Hackitt’s report was commissioned in the wake of the awful Grenfell Tower fire in June and, as such, isn’t looking at domestic housebuilding quite so much. However, it seems it’s all part of the same issue – the rush to get stuff done as cheaply as possible, focusing more on passing the buck – preferably down the chain – than in getting the quality job done.

“It has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so…The mind-set of doing things as cheaply as possible and passing on responsibility for problems and shortcomings of others must stop,” Dame Judith writes.

It is, of course, relatively easy to find problems, far harder to actually come up with proper solutions, especially with something like the Building Regulations which have such far-reaching implications. For too long, different elements of the Regs have acted in conflict rather in harmony.

There is the opportunity now to come together, regulators and construction industry to create something that is fit-for-purpose which does do what it sets out to do without being compromised by the needs of a different part of the regulations. However, setting the regulations out is only part of the problem. In a world which is still, despite everything we’ve seen happen, about the bottom line and working to the lowest cost denominator, and one where we have a serious skills shortage, is this going to make any difference at all?

We need to build better, not just faster and more cheaply.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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