Building (Amendment) Regulations 2002

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Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Will the Minister clear up an ambiguity in my mind before he moves on to discuss the other self-certification schemes? If, as recently happened at our house, a window falls in and I replace it myself, am I obliged to seek council approval of what I have done, or sign up to Fensa?

Mr. Leslie: That is an interesting point. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would not apply to become a member of Fensa if his bathroom window fell out. However, I understand that in respect of changes to part L of the building regulations, as in the case of any alteration to a home that falls under the building regulations, consultation and discussion with his local authority building control department would be wise, to ensure that the building control regulations were adhered to, just as he should consult his local authority planning department in the event of planning regulation changes. I do not want to drop him in it retrospectively, but I am sure that he has ensured that he has complied with those changes.

Mr. Johnson: I want to nail that point to the floor, to mix building metaphors. Would I have to seek retrospective approval from the council for having jammed in a pane with putty?

Mr. Leslie: It might help if I write to the hon. Gentleman with details of the scheme to which he refers, as I have not seen his window. If he invites me to do so, I might inspect it personally. I am informed that if the window is simply to be repaired, building regulations do not apply, but in the event of a completely new reinstallation of a window, they would.

Patrick Mercer (Newark): Assuming that my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) does not change his profession and become a glazier, will the Minister comment on who will bear the cost of seeking

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approval for fitting a new window? Will my hon. Friend have to apply in writing and pay a sum? If so, how much? Will it add to the cost?

Mr. Leslie: That is normal practice for building regulations and building control departments of local authorities throughout the country. Notices are lodged, and local authorities can charge a fee. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, as in the case of a planning department, that is part and parcel of the normal operation of local authority building control departments, and it has been so for a long time, not only during my tenure of office in the post of the past two weeks.

John Mann (Bassetlaw): My hon. Friend initially offered to write in detail on that point. I appreciate that he is new to the post, but my local authority charges a £200 fee for any building amendment. I have approximately 50 windows in my property in total, including outbuildings, all of which require replacement in the immediate future. If I totalled them all up perhaps I could put in one bid. We have four building inspectors who cover all types of work in Bassetlaw.

I seek clarification in writing of the precise implications of the regulation, and whether there will be flexibility in future statutory instruments, so that we do not end up with a quagmire of bureaucracy. If people carry on doing what they have always done and do the repairs themselves or get friends or family to do them, they would find that the work is outwith building controls.

Mr. Leslie: If my hon. Friend has particular issues that need clarification, I urge him to speak to the building control department of his local authority, which is best placed to advise on its fees and charges arrangements. If he has 50 windows in his property, my understanding is that he would not have to pay the building control notice fee for each one in the notification of any building changes, but for changes to the building as a whole. I hope he will not press me too much on my basic understanding of the building control procedure.

John Mann: Having had a great deal of personal experience of building control and regulations, that would be the case only if I wanted to put in all windows at the same time. The maintenance of windows tends to be a recurrent issue, which would therefore involve payment of £200 every time a window required replacement. I repeat that I seek written assurance that we would not face such a consequence, because I am sure that that is not the Government's intention with this order.

Mr. Leslie: Unless my hon. Friend was himself installing 50 brand new windows on separate occasions, I doubt that he would face the charges concerned. As I said, my understanding is that building control notice requirements relate to the whole of the work concerned. If a registered member of Fensa was undertaking the work, the charge for self-certification would probably be approximately £1 per window if the notification was done electronically, or

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£3 if sent by fax to the Fensa system. Some building control bodies have introduced special rates for replacement window works of about £60 a quarter.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Leslie: I should like to make progress, because we are short of time, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am worried on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), because, under present circumstances, if his window was rotten and fell out, he would go off to B&Q, buy a new one and put it in, which would be half a day's work. Now, he will have to get building regulation approval from the local authority. [Interruption.] That is what the regulation says. Either one is a member of Fensa, or one must obtain building regulation approval. If he has to apply for building regulation, local authorities will charge a minimum of £100. Furthermore, he presumably could not install the window until the local authority has given him approval. He will be sitting in his house getting very cold.

Mr. Leslie: I have many other points to cover, and will try not to dwell on that one. If the hon. Member for Henley personally wants not only to repair or maintain the glazing but to remove the frame, he should consult his local authority's building control department, which will have its own fees and charges. That has been a function of the changes to part L of the building regulations with regard to greater energy efficiency standards, which I am sure that everyone agrees are necessary and important. If he chose to go to the majority of the window companies throughout the country to do the installation, a negligible fee—probably about £1—would be involved. Repairs such as putting glass back in with putty do not usually come under the building control notice procedures.

Many points have been raised and I shall cover them as best I can. I had intended to discuss the other three bodies that are mentioned in the regulations: the heating equipment and testing approvals scheme for the installation of solid fuel heating producing appliances; the Oil Firing Technical Association for the Petroleum Industry; and the Institute of Plumbing. All those organisations are non-profit making, as is Fensa. Their operations are transparent and they are open to all firms that meet the relevant criteria. They are designed for the general good and are highly regarded. The installation of heating appliances and associated fittings and plumbing can create serious hazards if not properly undertaken, so that is controlled by the building regulations. Specialists usually undertake the work—maybe the hon. Member for Henley is a specialist in such areas; I am not entirely familiar with the areas in which he is a specialist. It is vital that the people who undertake such work have the necessary training and experience and several voluntary schemes exist to ensure that firms have those provisions in place.

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There is consensus throughout the country that there must be an increase in training competence and consumer protection throughout the construction industry at large. We are only too aware of the skill shortages that are prevalent in many parts of the industry. We are also well aware of the poor standards of workmanship that are sometimes faced by customers. The consequences of that are sadly, but rarely, life-threatening. Self-certification is a major step towards reducing regulatory burdens while promoting competence and confidence in key industry sectors.

I shall touch on points raised by the hon. Member for Cotswold about the regulatory impact assessment. I understand that that was freely available from the Department, which is the normal practice. I shall place the document in the Library if the hon. Gentleman could not obtain it from the Department.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked whether the Government are willing to listen to, and enter into dialogue with, firms about Fensa's operation. Certainly, we are. The operation is a pilot scheme in self-certification. We are happy to examine and discuss detailed operational matters. I shall be happy to discuss the matter with Federation of Master Builders.

The hon. Gentleman asked about registration for multiple self-certification schemes. Fensa is a pilot self-certification scheme and I am more than happy to learn lessons from such schemes. We must ensure competence in each trade at the registration stage, but I am happy to explore some form of consolidation, if that is required and possible.

The hon. Member for Cotswold asked many other questions. He said that some firms are not content with the changes to part L and the low-emissivity changes. I have discussed the importance of our commitment to the Kyoto protocol. Twenty-eight per cent. of a home's heat is lost through its windows, so we are taking a significant step to contribute to our commitments. The hon. Gentleman told us of an anecdotal case, but we have not seen evidence of sales decreasing in that sense.

A point was raised about costs to local authority building control departments. I understand that building control departments will make significant savings. Local authorities will be able to access the Fensa database, although they will not police Fensa because that will be a job for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Fensa steering group. Local authority representatives were involved in the establishment of Fensa at the outset.

As for some of the insurance matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred, it is a requirement that an insurance Act guarantee is offered. It is for the client to decide whether he takes up the offer. Apparently, at the previous Fensa board, it was decided to take a closer look at developing a model insurance background and that will be done in consultation with interested parties.

The hon. Member for Cotswold also referred to creating a monopoly for glass suppliers and mentioned Pilkington. While Pilkington is in a strong market

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position, there are competitors. We understand that Saint-Gobain is competing with Pilkington to meet the new demand for low-emissivity glass and that the Belgium firm, Glaverbel, is likely to be entering the market, too. Pilkington's price rise affected all types of glass, not just low-E glass, and Saint Gobain is competing. We have also heard that Glaverbel has built a production line to serve the United Kingdom market. A United States firm has recently announced plans to build a glass plant in the north-east.

We discussed whether the kite mark scheme would have been a better alternative. Alone, that could have been open to abuse. It is not the nature of the glass with which we are concerned—a point made by the hon. Member for Henley—but how the glass is installed. If there were high-quality glass but poor installation, the value of the energy efficiency level would not be in accordance with part L of the buildings regulations. The installation process matters significantly, which is why we focused on the installers.

From June 2000, there has been significant consultation during the publicity process on part L. We have tried our best to help Fensa develop a website to communicate with all concerned. Listed buildings are an important consideration. Website guidance by English Heritage is now available and paper copies of it will soon be published. The hon. Member for Cotswold asked about other building regulations that are not subject to statutory instrument discussions. Electrical safety is of importance to me and I shall closely examine that. All in all, self-certification is an exciting development in reducing the burdens affecting industry. Many worries have been caused by confusion and misunderstandings about the operation of the scheme. It is designed to reduce burdens significantly and I commend it to the Committee.

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