HL Deb 25 June 2004 vol 662 cc1494-504

1.3 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill is a Private Member's Bill brought in the other place by my honourable friend Andrew Stunell. I am delighted to follow his example and steer the Bill through your Lordships' House. My work is made easier because the Bill has the support of all-party sponsors, and I look forward to the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting. That there is political consensus is not in dispute, and the reasons are clear. The Bill is enabling only in its powers, but it is an important step in moving towards a number of regulations that support wider sustainable construction goals. More importantly, when the Government transpose the enabling powers of the Bill, it will deliver meaningful environmental benefit through building regulations.

I shall quote Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency. He was co-chairman of the Sustainable Buildings Task Group and delivered its report to the Government in May 2004. This is what he said in a letter that I received only two days ago: We were delighted that since our appointment a major step forward was taken with the presentation in Parliament by Andrew Stunell of a Private Member's Bill. Our group strongly endorsed the Bill and look forward to its early enactment and the possibility this offers for amending the building regulations with the sustainability agenda". The report by Sir John Harman and Victor Benjamin, the co-chair, pulls no punches. They go to the heart of the problem that we face. It is relevant to the Bill because it give us an opportunity to set standards that others can follow. The report, Better Buildings—Better Lives, says: The built environment is at the heart of our economy. It shapes how we all live our lives. But the manner in which it consumes natural resources means that it is responsible for some of the most serious global and local environmental change. The way we use natural resources for building, and the levels of pollutants emitted in the process of building and in the use of buildings, once occupied, are unsustainable. The construction industry must embrace more sustainable forms of building. This means buildings that meet the needs of society and stimulates the economy. but with higher environmental performance, particularly in terms of energy and water efficiency and waste management".

The Bill goes some way to the heart of the problems that we all face. The Bill aims to make buildings of all sorts greener and, more importantly, safer. It will do that by strengthening the regulations on new, extended and altered buildings to require the application of sustainability and crime reduction measures as a matter of course. It will bring under regulation schools and public utilities that are currently exempt, together with major repairs and innovation work that are now partially exempt. It will cover services in and around the building, not just the structure itself. But the most effective part of the Bill is an obligation on the Government to report to Parliament on the extent to which sustainability and crime reduction measures have improved the building stock.

The Bill also has the support of the World Wildlife Fund, sponsors of the One Million Sustainable Homes campaign. That aim is commendable, as such targets will be easier to achieve, if the Bill becomes law. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee recommended similar measures in its eighth report—recommendation 17—last year.

We should remember that it is not just sustainability that we are after. There must also be measures relating to security. So many of our buildings are blighted by measures that require additional security, and I am delighted, therefore, that the Bill is supported by Secure Design and, most importantly, by the police. I have been advised that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I need not go into the detail of specific clauses, but I would be delighted to share the advice with those taking part in the debate. Suffice it to say that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is confident that the measures in the Bill are justified in the public interest and are proportionate to its policy aims. I shall also arrange for a copy of the advice to be placed in the Library.

What are the objectives set out in the Bill? First, we aim to allow building regulations to be made to further the protection and enhancement of the environment; to facilitate sustainable development; and to further the prevention and detection of crime. Secondly, we aim to widen the circumstances in which building regulations could apply to buildings erected before such regulations were made for the purposes of the conservation of water; the protection or enhancement of the environment; the facilitation of sustainable development in connection with the demolition of buildings; the recycling of building materials; or the conservation of fuel and power or reduction of emission of smoke, gases, vapours and fumes, where there is a change of occupancy. Thirdly, the Bill will require the Secretary of State to report biennially to Parliament on the progress of sustainability in the building stock.

All the provisions relating to new powers to make building regulations are enabling powers. The Act will impose no burdens on businesses, charities, voluntary organisations and the public until regulations are made under the powers in the Bill. As regards devolution, the provisions in the Bill will apply only in England and Wales. Building regulations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are matters for the Executive and Assembly respectively.

So why are those objectives necessary? The current purpose for which building regulations may be made under Section 1(1) of the Building Act 1984 do not allow building regulations fully to contribute to the Government's sustainability objectives. It is for that reason that the Bill, and the greater power to use regulations to make requirements for sustainability purposes for existing buildings, would mean that building regulations could make a more significant contribution than is possible at present.

Even more important is the fact that current purposes for which building resolutions may be made do not allow crime deterrence and reduction and security issues to be addressed. The Bill will allow regulation to do that in the future. We cannot continue to misuse resources that are so scarce. The provisions in the Bill set out an unequivocal statement of our concern about environment and security. They also place an obligation requiring a person who is carrying out building work to sign a certificate on completion of the work. That will encourage such a person to pay greater heed to complying with the building regulations—both those now current and any made under the powers of the Bill.

Doing nothing is not an option. Voluntary effort, however welcome, has limited impact. There are a number of examples of best practice that show that it is now possible to build houses which have zero carbon emissions. Water rate can be economically used. Energy technologies are at a stage where they can play a major part in supplying domestic energy needs. But those examples are exceptions rather than the rule. All of us are committed to greater conservation of fuel power and water, to better protection of the environment, to well executed sustainable development and to confronting property-related crime.

Perhaps I may quote what the World Wildlife Fund said: The scale of the task is considerable. If everyone on the planet were to consume natural resources and pollute the environment as we currently do in the UK, we would need three planets to support us".

I shall conclude by setting out the scope of the Bill. It will give new powers, under the Building Act 1984, to improve the sustainability of buildings, which are currently responsible for around 30 per cent of carbon emissions in the UK—more than the transport sector—and are generally notoriously inefficient. It will give new powers to improve the crime resistance and security of buildings: at present there are no statutory requirements to comply with police advice.

The Bill will bring sustainability, fire safety and crime reduction under the same umbrella so that measures taken can be integrated and complementary. It will give powers to require that in certain circumstances large-scale repair and renovation work could comply with the same standards of sustainability and crime resistance as equivalent new building work. Currently, it must simply be no worse than the standard before repairs.

The Bill will bring under the scope of the building regulations certain types of building that are currently exempt, including schools and operational buildings owned by public utilities. It will give powers to require local authorities to create and maintain a register of documents in connection with building regulations. That should not be an onerous burden as those documents are already collected by local authorities. It will aid the Secretary of State in fulfilling a reporting duty to Parliament and will provide transparent information to the public.

The Bill will provide powers to nominate a prescribed person on site to certify that the entire building work had been completed in accordance with the building regulations. It will also allow for the creation of an appointed person to be responsible on site for separate sections of the work. That should focus the minds of builders on their legal responsibility to adhere to the sustainability aspect of building regulations. It will also clarify the chain of responsibility on building sites so that defects can be rectified early in the construction process. In extreme cases, effective enforcement measures can be taken by local authorities.

The Bill will place a duty on the Government to report to Parliament biennially on the progress made in making the building stock more sustainable and crime resistant and will improve the accountability for ensuring that building standards are kept. We all have a stake in a healthy society. We should not subscribe to our mistakes of the past. The Bill is designed to ensure that future generations will look back on this Bill as a major contribution to our economic and environmental improvement. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Dholakia.)

1.15 p.m.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for so carefully describing the provisions of the Bill: perhaps I need to say not a lot about what it includes. This little Bill has the potential of packing quite a punch. It was supported by all parties in the other place. It has emerged from there with some amendments and with still one or two question marks hanging over it.

During the passage of the recent planning Bill, there was a great deal of discussion about the whole notion of sustainability and its definition. Here we now have further incursion into that matter. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has outlined, the intention of the Bill is to amend building regulations and to place an onus on those who are building new properties and renovating properties to conform with the enhanced building regulations—which could be brought in as a result of these provisions, particularly under Part 1, so that there are better results from the conservation of heat, fuel and power, the reduction of water requirement and also provisions to build out crime.

The latter intentions are particularly important. There have been many examples in the past, which many people continue to live with today, of estates, for example, being constructed with walkways and nooks and crannies. They are poorly lit and are threatening environments, which have achieved notoriety more for the fear of those who live in them rather than satisfaction at having a safe and peaceful haven in which to live.

Recently, there has been a great deal of work done to identify and prevent such insensitive work being carried out again. But with the prospect of vast numbers of new properties and communities being constructed and brought together as a result of the Government's policies, the question of building out crime has become an increasingly important matter.

The provisions will be easier to implement on new buildings, but potentially could be costly and difficult to justify where properties are being renovated. If the dates do not change again, in the near future we will be considering the Housing Bill, with its proposals for both home condition reports and the licensing of houses in multiple occupation.

One can see here the potential in that legislation for the demand for energy reports to be part of the pack—provisions that may well have been pre-empted if these regulations are implemented in advance. The onus is already placed on new owners to upgrade property to the standards in the Bill. There is also the potential that owners of houses in multiple occupation may be deterred from buying for multiple occupation if the burden on renovations is too great and too expensive.

We welcome the inclusion of education premises within the building regulations. That is long overdue and, if these provisions are implemented, would be of great benefit. I understand that all the provisions in the Bill will, if the Government intend at any stage to implement them, have to be the subject of consultation and further consideration in Parliament. I hope that consideration will also be given to whether there is a better way of progressing with them. That may be possible through amendments to the Housing Bill, thus, at an early stage, bringing them into primary rather than secondary legislation.

The Bill was amended in the other place to cover buildings of special historical or architectural interest. From a brief that I received from English Heritage, I understand that in general, because of the way that they were constructed, historic buildings are about 30 per cent more heat efficient than modern buildings. That certainly says something about what our ancestors knew about heat preservation.

English Heritage welcomes the provisions of the Bill. However, in new Clause 2 I note that buildings situated in areas designated as conservation areas will now also be included. Nearly 80 per cent of the borough in which I live and serve as an elected member would therefore be brought within the compass of the Bill. While it is undoubtedly true that conservation areas play an important part in ensuring that areas of quality are protected, it would be going too far to say that within them, all the buildings are of a standard equivalent to an historic or listed building. They are not. Many encompass a constancy of design or longevity, or are areas of architectural but not particularly historic merit. It may be that further discussion would be useful on what exactly is envisaged by the inclusion of paragraph (b) in Clause 2 1A(2). The original clause concerning buildings of architectural or historic merit was withdrawn in Committee because it was considered to be too wide, and that now in the Bill has replaced it. So I am only putting down a marker that it may still encompass too much.

I do not anticipate from these Benches that the further stages of the Bill will detain us too long. For once, the other place has provided a reasonably full scrutiny, and most of the matters of substance were raised and changes made where necessary.

As I said at the outset, I can confirm that the Bill has the support of this party and we wish it well.

1.21 p.m.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for introducing a Bill which would make a further substantial contribution to the Government programme of sustainability in relation to building, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for raising some very interesting points which I am sure we would all wish to consider. I do not intend to repeat what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in his comprehensive and wide-ranging speech, but I hope that the House will forgive me if 1 speak in some detail as I have to put the Government's view of this important Bill on the record.

I very much agree that the Bill is an important step in moving towards sustainable construction goals. Sustainable development is an important part of this Government's policy. We must ensure prosperity so that we can deliver the public services we want, the jobs we need, and opportunities for all. But economic growth must contribute to the quality of life rather than degrading it.

What is sustainable development? A common definition is development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In practice, this means setting four objectives at the same time: social progress, which recognises the needs of everyone; effective protection of the environment; prudent use of natural resources; and, finally, maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.

This Bill addresses each of those objectives. It aims to make homes and workplaces more comfortable and more secure. It aims to raise performance standards for energy efficiency and to reduce carbon and other emissions that contribute to global warming, and it also aims to reduce water consumption. These are significant measures to protect our environment. It aims to foster the more sustainable use of building materials and to achieve those goals in cost-effective ways which avoid placing disproportionate burdens on our economy.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has already explained, the building regulations are a very important tool in delivering goals in a number of related policies. Current regulations made under the powers given in the Building Act 1984 already make a significant contribution towards the achievement of the Government's aims with these policies. This Bill seeks to extend those powers to enable new ways of improving our national energy and carbon emissions performance to make homes secure and to go beyond that to address some of the other aspects of sustainability.

In supporting the climate change programme and the energy White Paper, the current building regulations have addressed the conservation of fuel and power and the energy efficiency and limits on carbon dioxide emissions that flow from this for about three decades. These provisions are contained in Part L of the regulations and apply whenever certain types of building work are carried out. They apply to buildings and parts of buildings under construction and, to a limited extent, to alteration works in connection with adapting buildings for different use. However, the building regulations do not address many types of building work carried out on the existing stock of buildings, which are lost opportunities for improving energy performance, and they do not address aspects of sustainable occupation and use such as ongoing energy efficiency and water economy. In these areas, this Bill will be a great help.

As we have heard, most buildings are existing stock. There is also a large stock of non-domestic buildings and while there is a higher proportion of demolition going on, the rate of new construction is also comparatively small. Alterations are presently captured only if they affect the structural stability, tire safety and means of access to the buildings. This Bill widens the scope of regulations that we can make in both these areas. The Bill also widens the scope of regulations that may be made about water.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, mentioned the importance of security and crime reduction in her speech. This is a very important part of the Bill. The inclusion of a provision to enable building regulations to be made for the purpose of furthering the prevention or detection of crime is something we very much welcome. The Government are committed to creating sustainable communities that are thriving and inclusive, well-designed places where people want to live and work. But to succeed it is important to ensure that they are also places where people feel safe and where crime and disorder, or the fear of crime, does not undermine the quality of life and community cohesion.

Security measures that help to reduce not only the opportunity for crime but also help reduce the risk of people becoming victims of crime are important. It is obvious that good basic security is necessary because we want to reduce the number of people who become victims. Households with basic security measures in place such as double or deadlocks on outside doors and locks which need keys to open them on all accessible windows are greatly at less risk of being burgled. Even the very presence of security measures on a property can deter burglars. This Bill will allow regulations to be made to facilitate the prevention and detection of crime, which will enable us to look over time at a whole range of buildings and evaluate whether regulations would be helpful in improving overall security and combating crime.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has explained briefly the provisions of the Bill. However, it may be helpful to indicate to noble Lords how such powers might be used if the Bill were enacted. Many of the clauses are enabling powers and would require regulations to be made to use the powers that they confer. All proposed regulations would be subject to full public consultation and a full regulatory impact assessment to assess the practicality of the proposed measures and their costs and benefits.

The Building Act 1984 currently allows us to make regulations to deal with the conservation of fuel and power and to prevent the waste and misuse of water. We have already used these powers to make regulations to require buildings and fittings such as boilers and windows to be more energy efficient. This clause gives powers to make building regulations for new purposes. It will allow us to address environmental protection and sustainable development issues, in particular to promote the recycling of building materials and to control greenhouse gas emissions from buildings.

The Bill would also allow us to address crime prevention and security issues through building regulations. This may require that better locks are fitted on doors and windows, and extends to regulations which may be made to include demolition. As a consequence regulations could be made to require the recycling and reuse of building materials. The Government therefore strongly support Clause 1.

Clause 2 covers, Buildings of special historical or architectural interest". This clause requires that special character-protected buildings—listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas—should be taken into account by the Secretary of State in making building regulations. The clause recognises current practice in both making and applying regulations. The Government do not intend to consider general exemptions for historic buildings but, where appropriate, the approved documents on the regulations will give guidance on how the requirements should be applied to such buildings. It is widely felt that the present pragmatic approach to applying the regulations by building control bodies in respect of individual buildings works well, and the clause will not disturb these arrangements.

I should add that the clause will not have the effect of exempting the owners and occupiers of protected buildings from any requirement of the Disability Discrimination Act. The Government can therefore fully support the clause.

Clause 3, "Contents of building regulations", concerns the matters to which building regulations apply. The first part of the clause adds to the list in paragraph 7 of Schedule 1 to the Building Act 1984 of matters which regulations may cover in the general purposes section of Section 1. The second part of the clause extends powers to make regulations to deal with existing buildings.

As a general principle, building regulations are not retrospective—that is, buildings need comply only with the requirements in force at the time they were built or altered. There are currently some exceptions to this: first, when a building or part of it is materially altered; secondly, when there is a material change of use—for example, from a dwelling to a shop or vice-versa; and, thirdly, when certain controlled services, fittings or equipment are replaced.

The remainder of the clause would add to these exceptions and allow regulations to apply to existing buildings in the following circumstances: where they concern demolition; where they concern the use of recycled materials; where they concern the conservation of fuel and power or the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; and on the change of occupancy of all or part of a building.

As to the requirements to upgrade buildings in relation to conservation or fuel reduction and emissions where other regulated building work is being carried out, the Government consider that these additions are necessary to address fully the issues of the recycling of building materials, the conservation of fuel and power and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

The clause amends Section 44 of the Building Act 1984 to ensure that substantive changes made in respect of other buildings apply also to Crown buildings. The Government therefore support Clause 3.

Clause 4, "Continuing requirements of building regulations", allows regulations to be made to impose continuing requirements on the owners and occupiers of buildings where such requirements are needed for the purposes of conserving fuel and power or reducing emissions. The requirements could be imposed for the following purposes: the inspection and testing of the building or its services, fittings or equipment; the implementation of measures in relation to the building or its services; the keeping of appropriate records on these matters; and the making of reports to prescribed authorities on them. The clause also contains a technical amendment to Section 44 to allow the same duties to be imposed on Crown buildings as on other buildings.

The Government consider that the clause will ensure that buildings are appropriately maintained and improved in respect of conservation of fuel and power and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The clause will allow regulations to be made to help the Government to meet targets in the climate change programme, which I described some moments ago.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, noted, Clause 5 of the Building Act 1984 exempts certain educational establishments and some buildings of statutory undertakers—mainly utilities and buildings of transport undertakings—from compliance with the building regulations. The clause removes these exemptions. The Government support this removal.

Clause 6—"Secretary of State to report on building stock" requires the Secretary of State to report biannually to Parliament on progress towards sustainability in the building stock. The Government support these measures. We agree that Parliament and the public should be kept informed of progress in this important area. Moreover, the reports may act as a spur to retain focus on our continuing agenda in this area.

Clause 7—"Registers of information and documents to be kept by local authorities"—allows regulations to require local authorities to keep a register of information relating to their functions, powers and duties under the Buildings Act 1984 and building regulations. The clause would help better organise the information already held by local authorities. It will not impose an additional burden on local authorities; it will help improve access to information for the public. The Government fully support the clause.

Clause 8 allows for regulations to require compliance certificates for those carrying out regulated work. These would state that the completed work complies with the building regulations. This will remind builders and main contractors that responsibility for achieving compliance with the technical requirements of the building regulations lies with them; that they cannot shelter behind subcontractors, designers or building control bodies. The Government give the clause their full support.

Clause 9 allows regulations to require a person to be appointed in prescribed circumstances to manage compliance throughout the course of a building work. It will encourage greater compliance with building regulations. The appointed person will monitor the building work as it is done to ensure that building regulations are considered throughout the project. It will make the job of local authorities and other building control bodies easier by providing a single point of contact on multi-contractor sites.

I should emphasise that Clauses 8 and 9 are independent of each other. It might be easier for the person signing the certificate under Clause 8 to be the person managing compliance during projects under Clause 9. However, this will be a matter for those carrying out the building work.

In conclusion, I should like to emphasise that this is an enabling Bill. It will allow us to pass regulations based on its powers at a future date. Before these regulations are introduced, there will of course he a full regulatory impact assessment and consultation process. I agree that the Bill will make a major contribution towards economic and environmental improvements. As I have said on a number of occasions, the Government support the Bill. It will enable building regulations to make a significant contribution to the achievement of greater sustainability and security in buildings in England and Wales.

1.38 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the Minister for their contributions and their support for the Bill. The noble Baroness has a vast knowledge of local government and her views are important in taking the Bill forward.

She expressed concern about older properties. That is precisely the concern I had. Having received a brief from English Heritage, I made a point of speaking to that body and I was told that, in general, it welcomes the inclusion of Clause 2 as it will have the effect of increasing the circumstances under which building regulations can be made to apply to existing buildings, and it would be helpful to have this policy embedded in primary legislation.

It would be wrong for me to prolong the debate on a Friday afternoon, but let me put an offer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. If it would be at all helpful. I could sit with her, together with the advisers on the Bill, to consider any issues that we may be able to resolve. This would allow us more time at the Committee stage.

This is a very modest Bill. It is important in relation to sustainability and holding the Government to account.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.