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Thursday, May 30, 2013

The cost of Welsh Government Housing policies

Today's Western Mail contains an extraordinary attack by UK Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles on the Welsh Government's housing policies in which he claims that a 'burden of red tape' from the Welsh Government will put Wales at a competitive disadvantage, leading to less house building, fewer first-time buyers and more expensive rents and mortgages.

These claims have come about through a furious spat between Pickles and the Labour Assembly Member, Ann Jones who was responsible for introducing a new law in Wales that said that all new homes and adapted homes should come with sprinklers to save lives.

So what are the facts? Personally, I am not clear what the actual costs of introducing sprinkler systems are. The figure that was presented to committee during the passage of the legislation is now under dispute from the building industry, but they did not challenge it at the time. Indeed those who are now most vociferous in their opposition to sprinklers were very quiet when they had the chance to oppose this legislation.

The likelihood is that the cost is somewhere between the two extremes, but that in itself is not in my view too big a price to pay for the security that sprinklers bring and on its own seems not to be too onerous a burden on the house building industry. The only cautionary note I would sound is that the economic climate when this law was passed was markedly more favourable than today and so some caution needs to be exercised in bringing it into effect.

The real burden on house builders it seems, and the one that has given rise to claims by Redrow chairman Steve Morgan and others that in Wales it will cost between £11,000 and £13,000 more to build a 1,000 sq ft house than in England, are the proposed changes to Part L of the building regulations by the Welsh Government.

Ministers here are proposing far more drastic reforms than on the other side of Offa's Dyke in pursuit of carbon neutral homes, at least that was what their consultation said two years ago. Personally, I think that this is not a sensible way forward when we are already bringing in the sprinkler legislation, when house building in Wales is falling behind that over the border, with a consequential hit on the Welsh economy, and when the economy is in such a fragile state.

My understanding is that there is a five year moratorium on changes to building regulations in Wales in any case, which means that any amendments to Part L will not be enacted until after 2016 or thereabouts. I am seeking some clarity on that. However, the very fact of the consultation has generated uncertainty and that has hit confidence. As a result house builders are reluctant to commit to projects in Wales on the scale they should be doing.

Add into this some less than prudent interventions in the planning system by the Welsh Government, as happened recently in my region and it is no wonder that the building industry is jumpy.

What would help is some reassurance by the Welsh Government on Part L of the building regulations. If they can tell us what their proposals are now and when they plan on bringing them in then everybody will know where they stand. That will also enable AMs to scrutinise the government's position and seek to push for changes if that is necessary.

At present we are all in limbo, waiting to see what is going to happen. Whilst that continues the claims and counter-claims will grow ever more shrill and the economy will suffer. The Welsh Government need to introduce the certainty into that process that will at least give us something to argue about and which will hopefully calm things down.
Sprinklers are a life saver - I won't live in a place without them. You go to bed without a care about a fire spreading because of this or that thing happening. Still need smoke detectors, but a great idea - at least on this score the Welsh Assembly, imho, is right. Houses fitted with them will be more valuable than those that lack them; also, house prices go up anyway - often much faster than inflation.

Lot cheaper to have sprinklers installed from the get go that retrofitting them. cw
I agree
Eric Pickles and David Jones have got their facts wrong - figures for sprinklers have ranged from 11,000 (DJ) to 5,000 (EP). Which figure is right?

With that, construction industry is growing in Wales where it went down in UK as a whole.

This stinks of desperation from ideologically influenced Ministers in Westminster.

Pleased you and the rest of Welsh Lib Dems backed this proposal. Good to see parties actually working together on an issue like they did on the sprinklers law.
In fact the house building stats for Wales are not as good as they look. They start from a lower base than England and performance is trailing behind that over the border.
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