Andrew Leslie: Additional red tape would add barrier to solving our national housing shortage

Andrew Leslie

A BBC article published at the end of last month highlighted a recommendation made by lobbyist group Greenpeace to introduce a national agency to enforce building standards in Scotland. The organisation believes that a centralised compliance system is required to ensure building standards are met by builders. Greenpeace claims that in order to improve the efficiency of new homes and reduce carbon emissions, a higher degree of inspection and enforcement is required.

It is correctly pointed out, however, that new build homes are highly energy efficient, and well-insulated - often equipped with solar panels and far more eco-friendly than existing housing stock. Although Greenpeace acknowledges there is work to be done on existing buildings to improve their emissions, this is where we consider the efforts could be better spent.

When selling a new build house, there are already a number of checks which must be passed for the sale to complete. The property must be inspected by the local authority, who will confirm that it has been constructed in accordance with building regulations, and a new build warranty provider, such as NHBC or Premier Guarantee. To add a third hurdle would be unnecessary and unduly burdensome. It is for the local authority to certify that the new build homes have been constructed in line with the applicable regulations, not an independent national agency.

Greenpeace claims that some housebuilders are slow to rectify problems after completion. While this may be the case in some circumstances, most issues at this stage are snagging problems, not structural issues relating to building standards or energy efficiency. In an attempt to remedy this, and standardise provisions across the sector, there is already ongoing consultation by the Scottish government relating to Graham Simpson’s Proposed New-Build Homes (Buyer Protection) (Scotland) Bill as well as a review and updating of the existing Scottish Standard New Build Clauses. The introduction of standard wording relative to snagging and processes would create a level playing field for all new build purchasers irrespective of which builder they purchase from.

There is also the question of who would pay for this agency. It is implied that builders would be expected to subsidise the cost of a third check on their properties. If this were the case, any additional cost would likely be either passed on to purchasers or would be deductible from the price of the land. The effect may be that sellers are reluctant to bring their land to the market. This at a time where the supply of development land is constrained would be of little benefit to the landowner, builder, or home buyer.

At a time when the housing crisis shows little sign of abating and housing demand continues to outstrip supply, a further hurdle for housebuilders and more expense incurred by a builder, will do little to improve this.

Building efficient buildings is undoubtedly a crucial part of tackling climate change. With 14 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions coming from homes, more does need to be done in this area. One of the main challenges is to educate the house-buying public so they seek out energy efficient, sustainable homes when making a house purchase.

We welcome greater collaboration between the government and housebuilders and await the result of the consultation on the proposed standard new build missives and the updating of the existing Standard New Build Clauses. Additional red tape and compliance at this point seems an unnecessary barrier to solving our national housing shortage.

Andrew Leslie is an associate at Gillespie Macandrew